Today’s Opening Ceremonies marks the beginning of this year’s Special Olympics World Winter Games. Over 3,000 athletes and coaches from 110 countries have descended on Austria for the next two weeks to compete for their countries. For its part, Special Olympics Canada is sending a 148-person delegation of athletes, coaches and mission staff from across the country. Team Canada will compete in six of the nine events: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, figure skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing and speed skating.

As a founding partner of the global Special Olympics movement, Coca-Cola plays an important role in supporting Special Olympics Canada and helping athletes from across the country achieve their Olympic dreams. The Coca-Cola team here in Toronto was lucky enough to host one such athlete for the afternoon, Team Canada speed skater Stephen Graham, who shared his journey and how Special Olympics has transformed his life.

His first taste of Special Olympics came 20 years ago when he and his family traveled to watch a cousin compete in the 1997 World Games in Collingwood and Toronto. He was hooked right away and started competitive speed skating the following year. For Stephen and the other athletes, Special Olympics is not just about the sports, it’s about the community. “When I became involved with Special Olympics it gave me a lot of opportunities, friendships, self-confidence and a sense of pride,” said Stephen. When asked about the upcoming Games, Stephen was ecstatic. “This is my third World Winter Games! It’s a dream come true to be able to represent our country and wear the red and white. It’s a great feeling!”

To cheer on our Canadian athletes, Coca-Cola Canada associates decorated wooden hearts made of Austrian pine with messages of encouragement and support for those participating in the World Winter Games. Our hearts, along with hearts from every Coca-Cola team around the world, will be given to delegates as part of the Opening Ceremonies.

Go Canada, Go!