PIGEON RIVER, Ont. – A goodwill mission brought together Special Olympians and law enforcement from both sides of the border.
Torch-bearers from Canada on Monday ran about 55 kilometres to the Pigeon River crossing, coming together in the middle of the bridge that marks the border between Canada and the United States.
The Canadian runners lit the American torch atop the bridge deck and the flame began its American journey to the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, where the Minnesota state Special Olympics championships begin later this week.
Dave Doran, the president and CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota, said the passing of the torch is a first-of-its kind, a symbolic moment worth marking.
“It’s a huge occasion for us and it really amplifies the partnership we have with law enforcement, which is a huge partnership with Special Olympics worldwide,” Doran said.
“For the two (sides) to come together and form a partnership with Special Olympics Ontario, Special Olympics Canada and Special Olympics Minnesota is just phenomenal.”
For James Matijasic, a Special Olympian from Thunder Bay whose been with the organization for more than a decade, it was a special ceremony to watch.
“The crowd was just absolutely amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
“For my personal experience I’m going to look back on this and remember this for a long time.”
Coming together as one community was the best part of the ceremony, Matijasic added.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he said.
Const. Julie Tilbury, the spokeswoman for Thunder Bay Police, said unusual leg of the law enforcement torch run was an easy addition to their schedule after the American side reached out and made the request.
“Right away we said yes,” she said.
Given Thunder Bay’s relative remoteness to other communities in Canada, having a partnership south of the border could lead to more opportunities for local athletes,” Tilbury said.
“Hopefully we can build on it,” she said. “Crossing the border might be a little bit tricky, but if there’s some way we can work on our relationship so we can have our athletes compete, then they will have more opportunities and that’s what athletes want.
“If we can do that, absolutely we’ll support them on that.”
Highlighting her day was seeing the two torches touching tips on the bridge.
“It was a special moment,” Tilbury said. “You saw Canada and the U.S. on the border, the Flame of Hope going from one country to the next and the whole spirit of sport, joy and inclusion – everything the Special Olympics is about – you saw here today at the border and it’s something I hope we get to do again.”
Thunder Bay is set to bid on the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games.