Friday, June 8 is a day Jenelle Conlon has been waiting for all year.
The day marks the beginning of Operation Trackshoes, an annual sports festival for British Columbia residents with developmental disabilities between the ages of two and 80. Taking place at the University of Victoria, the three-day event draws more than 500 athletes to compete in a number of events including ball throw, high jump, boccie ball, and 1,500 metre races, among others.
“This is the best thing in the world for me. I can’t wait for Trackshoes to get here,” said Conlon, a Sooke resident who works in Langford. “It’s a big crowd of people all enjoying the same thing.”
Conlon has been involved with Operation Trackshoes for 10 years, originally starting off as a counsellor, alongside her daughter, and now helps with orientation for new counsellors. Now, she’s calling on volunteers to act as day and overnight counsellors.
Volunteers are matched with athletes based on their needs – some may be matched one-on-one with competitors while other counsellors offer support to groups of competitors.
When athletes arrive on Friday night, counsellors take them to their dorms and help them get unpacked and settled, then escort them to dinner. Following dinner, athletes and counsellors can participate in fun games of basketball, swimming or karaoke, or enjoy a movie or a live band.
On Saturday morning, counsellors help competitors get ready, take them for breakfast at the dining hall and head down to the track for competitions and to cheer on athletes.
For Conlon, being a counsellor is about building a relationship with athletes – relationships that often last beyond the competition. To this day, Conlon still keeps in touch with competitors.
“It’s a great way to make friends from different walks of life.
“It’s an atmosphere where everyone is accepted for who you are and what you can or can’t do isn’t what’s important. It’s more about being there, it’s about inclusion,” Conlon said.
“You will never do anything else in your life like this experience. You will never get as much out of going to this as you would anything else. You don’t have to bring any major skills to the table. You just show up and you just can’t help but have a really good time.”
Trackshoes board president Judith Armstrong said dozens of overnight and day counsellors are still needed for this year’s event.
“It’s fun. It’s a great way for people to come together and meet people they may have not met before. It’s a great community event. It’s meaningful,” she said.
Counsellors are provided with two-hour orientations and no experience is necessary.
For more information or to volunteer visit trackshoes.ca. Operation Trackshoes takes place June 8 to 10 at the University of Victoria.