Special Olympics Program Making Waves at the ORC
Community News/ Oct 25

Special Olympics Program Making Waves at the ORC

The Ottawa Rowing Club is continuing its mission to bring to rowing programming to people of all abilities and skill levels with the Special Olympics Ottawa Rowing Program.

Aimed at providing safe, inclusive, and most importantly, fun opportunities to individuals with intellectual disabilities, the new program ran throughout the summer and was offered twice per week on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the club. The participants were introduced to the sport and taught rowing skills throughout their initial sessions and were soon rowing in boats from singles to eights and everything in between. To the club’s knowledge, the Special Olympics Ottawa Rowing Program marks the first time ever that rowing has been included as a Special Olympics sport in Canada.

“We are very proud to play a part in creating opportunities for athletes with disabilities while striving to increase the accessibility of rowing but, more importantly, we hope to see these programs continue to be formed and thrive across the country,” said Marley Mullan, one of the ORC’s most prominent volunteers who spearheaded the initiative at the club. “I can’t express in words how happy it has made me to have the opportunity to create and deliver the Special Olympics Ottawa Rowing Program. I’m already looking forward to the next season, and to welcoming more athletes to rowing!”

The purpose of Special Olympics is to create inclusive programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities to experience the transformative power of sport while developing a sense of belonging within a team. The aspect of being a part of a rowing crew and working together to propel a boat seems like a natural fit and the club is dedicated to making the program a mainstay in their offerings for years to come. Mullan is quick to point out that the program would not have been possible without the generous support from ORC volunteers, as well as Jason Hussak from Special Olympics Ontario.

The ORC has made strong efforts over the last several years to introduce rowing to underserved communities in the National Capital Region, including starting a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at the club and launching the Everyone Can Row Ottawa Project in 2021.

“The ORC’s unwavering commitment to accessibility initiatives and the expansion of our sport, as exemplified by the Special Olympics program, remains steadfast,” said Zak Lewis, head coach of the ORC. “While our organization, like many in the rowing community, acknowledges there’s still significant work ahead in creating inclusive training environments, we’re enthused to persist in reaching out to unconventional rowing populations, eager to broaden the horizons of participation in our sport. The growth of Everybody Rows Ottawa and the hundreds of newcomers who embrace rowing with us each year serves as a resounding testament to our core belief: every athlete, regardless of ability, deserves the chance to embrace our incredible sport. We’re resolute in our pursuit to dismantle barriers and foster enduring change in the years to come.”

The Special Olympics Ottawa Rowing Program is for individuals aged 12+ and in the inaugural year they were thrilled to have 11 of the newest rowers in the Ottawa region register. The modest number allowed for the athletes to learn at a comfortable pace and provided an excellent instructor to participant ratio. With the experience and lessons learned in their inaugural year, this exciting new program is well positioned to grow and continue to serve individuals with intellectual disabilities for years to come.

Photos are property of the Marley Mullan / Ottawa Rowing Club.