Athletes Gear Up for 2016 Special Olympics Ontario Spring Games at U of G

Taylor Redmond will compete in the 2016 Special Olympics spring games at the University of Guelph.

Basketball player Taylor Redmond.

Guelph basketball player Taylor Redmond already has a gold medal from the 2008 Special Olympics provincial competition and a silver medal from the 2012 event. He’s hoping to add to his collection with another gold this year, and this time he’ll have the home court advantage: the University of Guelph is hosting the 2016 Special Olympics Ontario Spring Games in May, and it’s a place Redmond is very familiar with.

As a high school student, Redmond completed a co-op placement at the W.F. Mitchell Athletics Centre. He now works part-time at the centre helping with the intramural programs. He also hosts a sports show for campus radio station CFRU on Wednesday afternoons called “Gryphons and Special Olympics Sports” with two of his basketball teammates. His on-air name is Boss Taylor — it’s a tribute to Bruce Springsteen, one of his favourite singers.

The radio show has led to a YouTube channel featuring interviews with celebrity athletes, including racecar driver Mario Andretti. “My dad got nervous, but I was fine and the interview went well,” says Redmond, 24. His interview with Maple Leafs hockey player Jake Gardiner was videotaped outside the Air Canada Centre and has helped promote the Special Olympics.

“Taylor has self-confidence, a disarming smile and he makes people relax when he’s interviewing them,” says his father Steve. “He asks fun questions and keeps the interviews positive.”

Redmond is also involved in the Campus Friends program, which sees U of G student volunteers work with Redmond and other young people with disabilities to help them experience life on campus. Redmond has attended classes, worked on assignments, watched guide dogs being trained and studied in the library, all with the support of volunteers. “I don’t like math too much,” he says, adding that language and literacy skills are his favourite classes.

He’s also a motivational speaker at schools and community groups, raising funds for the Special Olympics. While in Ottawa requesting government funding, he met former prime minister Steven Harper, who told Redmond he’d make a great politician.

The provincial Spring Games from May 26 to 28 will welcome more than 1,000 athletes and coaches from across Ontario and involve more than 600 local volunteers. Events include swimming, powerlifting, basketball, rhythmic gymnastics and bowling. Guelph Police Services is organizing the event in partnership with the University of Guelph and the City of Guelph.

In preparation for the games, Redmond is practicing with his basketball team twice a week and playing in tournaments. “I’m very excited — can’t wait,” he says. He’s looking forward to meeting new friends and having his family and friends cheer him on. Like the other athletes, Redmond will live in residence on campus during the games.

Groups and business can help offset the cost of athlete participation and help raise awareness through Special Olympics Ontario’s “Adopt an Athlete” initiative. Many schools and businesses have signed up to support an athlete, and individuals and families can also “adopt.”

“This is one way the community can welcome the athletes,” says Dominique O’Rourke, manager of corporate sponsorships. “It also makes it more personal when you know a bit about your adopted athlete.”

On April 12 the University of Guelph will also host Special Olympics Day to raise awareness for the provincial Spring Games. Events will include a rally for local school-age athletes and the unveiling of 50 banners featuring Guelph athletes that will be hoisted at U of G and in the City of Guelph (along Wyndham Street and Gordon Street) prior to the games.

As for Redmond, he’s clear about his goals: “We want to win the gold and go onto the nationals in Halifax.”

For more information about how to support Special Olympics Day or to”Adopt an Athlete”, visit www.specialolympics2016games.com.