When Lexie Letzing sees the impact of Special Olympics Northwest Territories on its athletes, she can only describe it in two words: rewarding and priceless. Founded in 1989, the organization is dedicated to enriching the lives of people living with intellectual disabilities through sport.
“Sports programming gives these athletes physical activity, an endorphin rush, and socialization,” describes Letzing, who is the organization’s sports coordinator. “You really can’t beat that. It’s really great.”
In 2023, Special Olympics NWT athletes had even more sport opportunities to enjoy, free of charge, thanks to funding from the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association’s Reaching Each and Every One: A Community Sport Intervention program. This program, which was funded by the Government of Canada’s Community Sport for All Initiative, seeks to remove barriers and increase sport participation rates for equity deserving groups across Canada.
Letzing says the organization currently offers 10 free sports programs to its athletes. However, Special Olympics NWT faces challenges such as high facility costs, and compensating facilitators – such as the fitness instructors and the golf pros – fairly for their work in the program.
The organization was able to use the funding to cover the cost of registration and ice time for its speed skaters and figure skaters, as well as all the fees associated with the organization’s golf program.
This funding, Letzing says, helped Special Olympics NWT continue to offer is athletes free programming – which helps them overcome financial barriers to sport.
“A lot of our athletes are in supportive living, so they don’t have that financial support that a parent or guardian can provide,” Letzing explains. “This funding allowed us to remove those barriers for our speed skaters, figure skaters and golfers.”
She adds that the funding made a major impact on the majority of the organization’s athletes. Twenty out of 30 athletes participated speed skating, figure skating, and golf – and the funding meant that these athletes could continue to enjoy these sports for free.
The funding also created ripple effects within the organization – giving them the ability to allocate funds to other programs.
“If we didn’t have this funding, we would have had to pull money from other programs. But having this funding meant we could run these three sports, and still send our bowling team and speed skating team to the provincial championships in Sherwood Park, Alberta,” Letzing explains. “If it wasn’t for this funding, we would have had to shuffle money around to make it work.”
She adds that the Special Olympics NWT athletes also faced isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the funding helped support the organization in providing them sport and recreation opportunities post-pandemic.
While the Northwest Territories didn’t face the same level of lockdowns as other parts of the country, she says the athletes still had to stay six feet apart and only have close contact with people within their own household during the pandemic.
“This funding gave these athletes time to socialize with each other, and provide that social aspect of sport that they lost during the pandemic,” Letzing says. “For them to socialize in a sports programming setting really helped their mental health.”
She adds that the funding meant a lot to Special Olympics NWT, and that the organization was incredibly grateful to receive it.
“It really makes you thankful that funding like this is around, and accessible to groups like ours,” Letzing says. “We are a small but mighty organization, and we can make this funding last a long way.”