March 12, 2022

Flexing different muscles: N.L. Special Olympics athletes singing in a new choir | CBC News

Rebecca Hampton and Sarah Flight are members of Special Olympics who also love to sing. They’ve been friends since they were children. (Bernice Hillier/CBC)

Choirs across the country are eager to perform this holiday season after pandemic restrictions last year, but a choir in western Newfoundland may be more enthusiastic than most.

The group, made up mostly of Special Olympics athletes, is performing together for the first time ever on Sunday.

“I just couldn’t wait to be a part of it,” said Rebecca Hampton, 23, who’s been singing since she was in her mid-teens but only became involved in Special Olympics this year.

“Everyone has a talent, and they should enjoy that special talent,” said Hampton.    

The Special Olympics organization provides athletic opportunities to youth and adults with intellectual disabilities. For some of the individuals involved, turning their attention from moving their bodies to using their vocal cords to sing songs is something entirely new.

Melanie Gosse and her choir of Special Olympics athletes and friends in Corner Brook. (Bernice Hillier/CBC)

Making a dream a reality

It was a Special Olympian Sarah Flight, 22, who got the ball rolling on the idea of a choir.

Flight has been involved in Special Olympics for five years and also enjoys singing lessons with her music teacher Melanie Gosse.

“I knew a lot of other athletes who loved to sing, too,” said Flight. “And I kind of mentioned to Melanie that there would be some people who would be maybe interested in doing it, if we just ask them.”

Gosse was keen to give it a try, and the Born to Fly fundraising concert for Special Olympics started to take shape.

First, Gosse received approval from the local Special Olympics organization, then she approached athletes about the idea while they were at a bowling practice.

She told them she’d help them prepare two selections to perform as a group, including the song Fly by Canadian singer April Lavigne, which has become an anthem for Special Olympics.

“I got a whole bunch of athletes come and wanting to sing some songs for the show. And I thought, ‘Brilliant! This is going to be amazing,'” said Gosse.

Striking a chord

As the choir rehearses together, it’s easy to sense their enthusiasm for singing and the fact that they are having a lot of fun doing it.

But Gosse said there have been touching moments too, such as when they had their first practice together.

“We started singing, and there was a couple of students that were so overwhelmed with being so happy to sing and having that opportunity that they cried,” said Gosse.

Parent Anissa Bennett said she’s already shed a few tears of her own, just at the thought of her son Dylan, 12, performing in the choir.

“He’s in Grade 7 and he’s never been able to participate in school events like choirs or Christmas concerts. Maybe it could be due to special needs. He wasn’t able to handle it at that time,” said Bennett.

12-year-old Dylan Bennett will perform on stage for the first time ever as part of the Special Olympics choir. (Bernice Hillier/CBC)

But Dylan Bennett is pleased for the opportunity now. 

“I love singing with my friends, and I’m good at singing. I practice and practice every Saturday,” he said.

Dylan’s mother will be one of the proudest members of the audience as her son takes to the stage to sing with his friends.

“I think it’s a perfect opportunity for them … I think it’s time for all these athletes to shine, my son included,” said Bennett.

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