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Volunteering inspires non-athletic coach

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Growing up, Cathy Holmes wasn't very athletic -- now she volunteer coaches some of the best athletes in the world.

Back in January 2009, the busy mother of three -- Nicole, 22, Sara, 16, and Stephanie, 16 -- was shuttling back and forth between her hometown of Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg every week for her two youngest daughters, both adopted and living with special needs -- Down syndrome -- to participate in swimming classes.

She decided to contact Special Olympics Manitoba, an organization that provides quality sport training programs and competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities, to see if there were sports activities for her two children closer to home. That's when the organization suggested to Holmes that with their help, she could start a team in Portage.

"At first, I thought, there's no way, I'm not athletic," Holmes says with a laugh. "But then my husband said to me, 'You can do it, Cathy. Do it for your kids.' "

So Holmes started the Portage Stampeders, a multi-sport team that includes snowshoeing, basketball and track and field. Its athletes have accomplished great things since its inception. Two athletes, one of them Cathy's daughter Stephanie, won gold medals for snowshoeing at this year's nationals. One athlete, Barret Wallis, 20, will participate in the Special Olympics World Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in early 2013.

"It's just amazing to see how the athletes have grown and matured since we began the Portage Stampeders," Holmes says.

She's seen the athletes' confidence grow over the years, she says.

They take pride in their sports, rigorously training and watching what they eat.

"Athletes come to training, they have fun, they practise, there's never any complaining, and when I see such great enthusiasm from the athletes, it definitely makes it worth it."

The Portage Stampeders team consists of 15 athletes ranging from 13 to 22 years old.

To become a volunteer coach, Holmes -- who works during the day for the Southern Regional Health Authority, while her husband is a farmer -- had to attend clinics and workshops put on by Special Olympics Manitoba on how to coach certain sports and prepare for the Special Olympics, as well as take online training to learn more about respect in sports and ethics.

The Portage Stampeders wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for the volunteers who have helped her over the years, including parents of the athletes and community members who have come forward to lend a hand, she says.

"Volunteers like Cathy are the backbone of Special Olympics Manitoba," says Steven Dreger, manager of communications and media relations for Special Olympics Manitoba. "Without them, we would not be able to provide quality sport opportunities for our athletes."

Holmes says volunteering makes her feel good inside.

"It gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling," she says with another laugh. "It's been a really positive experience. I am so happy that my life has taken this route."

On Oct. 26, Special Olympics Manitoba will hold its 18th annual Special Olympics Festival Gala at the Delta Winnipeg. For more information on the gala or if you are interested in volunteering or supporting Special Olympics Manitoba, their website is at .


If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin at .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2012 B3

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