Friday, December 15, 2017

The Oka National Park Race for Special Needs: Running for Community Resources and Support!

By Randy Pinsky

Gusting winds, rainy forecasts, and an early start failed to dampen the excitement and determination exhibited at the 9th annual Oka National Park Run for the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped (WIAIH)! The dreary November morning was counterbalanced by the contagious energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers in fluorescent vests and the hundreds of pumped-up runners.
Energy was high as walkers and runners took part in the annual event.
As described on their website, WIAIH “strives to enhance the lives of people with an intellectual disability or autism, provide support to their families, and maintain and develop innovative services and sensitize the community”. Celebrating almost 60 years of involvement, the organization provides early intervention for those with developmental delays, in addition to coordinating parent support groups, social activities, and respite care.

Through their work, WIAIH “promotes independence and socialization for [their clients] through a variety of dynamic and fun activities that can be enjoyed with their peers”.

The Run’s coordination team deserves special mention for their innovativeness, dispatching volunteers to their designated stations using moving vans, out of which volunteers leaped like members of a SWAT team. Swiftly pitching tents, keeping runners hydrated with water and electrolytes, they enthusiastically cheered runners on, reinforcing the importance of their involvement. Cheering, “you’re all heroes” and “do it for the families”, runners pushed beyond their limits, motivated by the transformative work WIAIH does.

Volunteers on the ready to leap out at their designated stations.

Over 2,500 runners and walkers were in attendance, taking part in the 5K, 10K, 21K and the extremely popular 1K Kids Fun Run. Montrealer Louis-Philippe Garnier led the half-marathon with an impressive timing of 1h17min53sec with Marie-Claude Le Sauteur not far behind at 1h28min20sec. In the Kids Fun Run, Collin Ocean easily overtook the others, covering the distance in 4min5sec, with Nellie Pilon Pointe-Calumet leading the girls at a respectable 4min29sec.

All decked in blue WIAIH tuques and fluorescent security vests, the volunteers helped make this event possible.

The focus and commitment of the participants - especially the young runners - was impressive, as they battled drizzling weather with positivity and drive. It was heartwarming for all to see the community get together for a cause which has impacted so many, both personally and indirectly. Sprinting by the usually packed sandy beach and seeing the chilly waves, spurred runners onwards!

One of the most courageous participants was Sonia Guarascio, single mom of a little boy with Down Syndrome, athlete extraordinaire- and breast cancer survivor. Not only did she persevere through her challenges, she inspired and led the pack in her fundraising efforts.
At press time, over $4,100 had been raised and, as noted by Tracy Wrench, Recreation Coordinator, they’re still counting!

Don’t miss the 10th edition of the WIAIH Oka National Park Run- start training today!

Youppi! visits Mackay Centre School's Satellite Class and Best Buddies at Westmount High

Youppi! visits Leaders on Wheels 
and Best Buddies at Westmount High

By Wendy Singer
On December 14, the Mackay Centre School’s satellite class at Westmount High School and their “Best Buddies” had the treat of a lifetime  – a pizza lunch with our favourite Habs mascot, Youppi! Clad in his blue, blanc, rouge, Youppi! goofed around with the students as they ate lunch and decorated ornaments for their Christmas tree.

The event was initiated by Canadien’s defenceman Shea Weber, who became involved with Best Buddies while playing for the Nashville Predators. He has continued his community outreach here in Montreal since his arrival in 2016. Recently, Weber invited the Mackay class, also known as the Leaders on Wheels, to enjoy a Habs game in his private loge.
Weber could not attend the event due to practice time, but Youppi! stepped right in; his antics making the student laugh heartily. Representatives from the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation marketing team Shauna Denis, Vanessa Harrison, and Dave McGinnis, kicked off the celebration on a high note, gifting students with NHL 100th classic tuques, Habs flags and scarves, Youppi! dolls, and two tickets to an upcoming hockey game. “Today we are honouring organizations that do great work in our community,” said Denis. “The players are very active behind the scenes. They go out of their way to give back to the community, most of which you don’t hear about.”
MCCF Marketing Department representatives Shauna
Denis and Vanessa Harrison.
 Youppi! is no stranger to the Leaders as they met when they attended the game last month. They were thrilled to reunite. Other Westmount High students were pleasantly surprised when Youppi spontaneously popped into their classrooms. Rosemarie Sondola, teacher of the Mackay Satellite Class, speaks highly of the Buddies. “Our students love the attention of their Best Buddies. We have a great group this year. This event will encourage others to join in.” 

The Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation aims to provide a better and healthier future for children in need. Since its inception in August 2000, the Foundation has donated over $27 million to over 755 charitable endeavors throughout the province of Quebec working for the well-being of privileged children. 

Best Buddies has chapters in 50 countries around the world. Their school programs help to create durable friendships between people with an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD). The ultimate goal is to make every school and community across Canada more inclusive and accepting of people with an IDD.

It was a joyful event that brought more than Christmas cheer. It brought three communities together to celebrate the holidays and thank Westmount High School’s Best Buddy volunteers for their wonderful work.

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, and healthy holiday from the Inspirations Team!