Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill
Words by Cara Williams, Photos by Clay Dolan
While everyone has undoubtedly been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on Special Olympics athletes and programs has been especially profound. Fundraising events are imperative to ensure ongoing opportunities and equipment for athletes are available. Last winter Special Olympics Meaford/Thornbury missed a critical fundraising opportunity, which directly impacts how they can continue to offer life-changing programming.
“As a community we have struggled merrily along to raise funds and provide opportunities for our athletes within our means,” says Special Olympics Coach and Community Coordinator Maureen Munden. “We saw a few years ago when we were successful in getting a grant from Community Foundation Grey Bruce how much more we could do with actual money. Enter Janet and Andy Hall, Sue and John Mealey, and Sarah Bright, who put together an amazing team for the 24h Blue Mtn [just before the pandemic hit in February 2020] and raised $28,000. Incredible! These funds take the pressure off to raise money, so we can focus on sport. That event, and this group of people, created an energy throughout their wider circles that brought awareness to Special Olympics. When the pandemic hit—boom—sport was done overnight. As was the 2021 24h Blue Mtn. We were in uncharted territories.”
Enter John and Sue Mealey, whose sloped backyard was the perfect escape during the pandemic. “Winter 2020 was challenging for everyone and as a dedicated ski family, we found ourselves in an unprecedented position,” says John. “Our lockdown family consisted of spending time outdoors with our awesome neighbors, Andy and Janet Hall, and building a custom ski hill and cross-country skiing track on our property near Kolapore. The hill can accommodate 19 slalom gates, we added jumps and even timing and video—after a fun slalom session with Andy, and while enjoying après at the “Summit Deck”, we came up with the idea of hosting a ski event that we named 2.4h Mt. Mealey.”
The impetus for the event was Jamie Hall—Janet and Andy’s daughter who loves to ski and is an active member of Meaford/ Thornbury Special Olympics. Along with a few dedicated volunteers, the Mealey’s were off and running, and created a fundraising event, both virtually and responsibly socially distanced in-person, which raised over $7,000 for our local Special Olympics chapter. “Almost every Sunday, Jamie would go up and down the hill and then hit the tube park,” remembers John. “It was so emotional to see her enjoy herself after months of isolation. We wanted to make the day all about Jamie and her Special Olympic friends who were longing to see each other and get back on skis after most programs had been cancelled.”
The 2.4h Mt. Mealey was not an easy event to plan or execute as we were still under certain restrictions. But the heart behind the occasion stayed true—to raise much needed funds for when Special Olympics programs were up and running again. “When you are a parent of a special needs athlete you need to know someone has your back because so often you are tired, exhausted and living a life different from the people around you,” explains Maureen. “Special Olympics is an organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities, for ages eight and up. There is no age cap—so once you are an athlete you are welcome your whole life. We have competed locally, provincially, nationally and there are competitions at a worldwide level. We serve about 40 athletes between the communities of Meaford and Thornbury. To have this special event put on by the Mealey’s and their amazing team and friends, it kept that spirit of being on a team alive. It meant 24h Blue Mtn was just the beginning and the journey with these great people was still on! It meant we still mattered even if we couldn’t all be together.”
“It turned out to be an incredibly inspiring day and absolutely hilarious,” says John. “If you ever had the luxury of spending time with Special Olympians you will know the meaning of authentic spirit. Sponsors of the event jumped on board very quickly—from our friend Shawn Murray who did a fly-by in his
helicopter, to Pizza Pizza who delivered a crazy amount of pizza for the athletes. Financial sponsors included Rossginol, The Flooring Place, The Glass Place, Kühlhaus Custom Homes, Ski Television, Escarpment Magazine, Toyota Commercial Finance, Georgian Bay Hotel, Sarah Bright/Two The Core, Paul Thususka, Dave and Maggie Dick/Royal LePage Locations North, Neal Smithman, Bill Dier and many more individual donations that made the event such a success.”
Looking ahead to the 2022 winter season, Special Olympics Meaford/ Thornbury is now in the unique position to provide upgraded equipment and expanded range of tournaments and opportunities for participants, thanks to the 2.4h Mt. Mealey event. “We are always looking for volunteers,” says Maureen. “All upcoming events are on hold as are competitions, but we are so looking forward to just being together to have some fun! We miss each other. We are one of those families who hasn’t been able to get together throughout the pandemic.”
Team Georgian Thunder is looking forward to participating in the 24h Blue Mtn Febrary 26-27, 2022, to donate, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The second annual 2.4h Mt. Mealey will take place in March 2022, to donate please contact email@example.com. For more information on Special Olympics Ontario, please visit specialolympicsontario.com.