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'Special athletes' inspire OPP Guardians' virtual campaign

'It’s been a hard year for everyone, so the support is appreciated,' said Orillia Special Olympics athlete Stephen Graham

The OPP’s Guardians Half Marathon and 5K virtual event was a success this year for Special Olympics.

About 550 runners participated in the event which ran from Oct. 7 to Oct. 25 and raised nearly $42,000.

OPP media relations officer Kerry Schmidt says the event was not only a success as a fundraiser for Special Olympics but also because it got athletes back in motion after sitting on the sidelines all year due to the pandemic.

“We had a campaign where our members drafted an athlete as a play on getting them off the sidelines and on to the field. Almost 100 Special Olympics athletes were drafted under our program, which was pretty cool,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt says the OPP’s tradition of partnering with Special Olympics is often inspiring and encouraging for not only the athletes who participate but also the officers and staff at the OPP.

“Seeing the passion, the drive, and the heart of these special athletes gives inspiration to everyone and I think that’s a real heartwarming and encouraging way to support someone," he said. 

"We get just as much encouragement from seeing them perform at their best as they do."

Schmidt says although the event was different and at times difficult to host this year with it being moved to a virtual platform amid the pandemic, it was still an easy event to get involved with and support.

“When you find a cause that makes you feel like you are a part of it and it's something you can be proud of. It’s easy to rally around. It's a project that brings so much joy to others and the opportunity for us to provide support to charities that we feel very connected with is certainly fulfilling,” he said.

Schmidt hopes community members can draw inspiration from the successful OPP Guardians event to support other charitable causes who need support this year. 

“You don’t have to take lots of effort and put your safety at risk while in a pandemic. All these fundraising campaigns are going virtual and moving online and there are still lots of things you can do by providing your support and resources if able to," said Schmidt.

Stephen Graham, a decorated Special Olympics athlete from Orillia who has won multiple medals at provincial, national and world championships, ran his 5K marathon by himself a few weekends ago at Tudhope Park.  

“It was great to still be able to contribute to the event,” Graham said.

While Graham expressed his disappointment with the in-person social aspect of the event being cancelled this year, he was thrilled to be able to participate and have crucial funds raised for Special Olympics.

“It’s awesome that they can help our local athletes participate in sports. It’s been a hard year for everyone, so the support is appreciated,” he said.

Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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