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2010 Sports Celebrities Festival

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

It’s not often that the Vancouver Canucks, suited up from head to toe like James Bond, end up playing second fiddle to a seven-year-old.

That was the case Wednesday at the 2010 Sports Celebrities Festival when Oliver Sutherland absolutely stole the show.

With a black argyle vest covering a collared blue-checkered shirt and black corduroy pants and black shoes finishing off his outfit, Oliver made that adorable kid from Jerry Maguire look like an ogre.

As a Special Olympics athlete and Sports Celebrities Festival spokesperson, Oliver was more popular than any Canucks during the annual fundraiser, outshining even Mason Raymond, his co-poster boy.

Raymond, who Oliver is pictured with on media for the gala event, which has raised more than $1.6 million since its inception, was happy to take a backseat to such an inspiring person.

“It seems like just yesterday we did our photo shoot and we had a lot of fun,” said Raymond. “Oliver and I seem to connect well and we’ve become good friends. Just to see him smile puts a big smile on my face.”

Each Canucks player and members of coaching staff and management was paired with a Special Olympics athlete for the dinner and formal program of the evening, but before things got serious, those in attendance had the chance to get their picture taken with various Canucks and/or Henrik Sedin with the Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophies, and to compete against the Canucks in a mix of games, including table hockey and Nintendo Wii.

The Coles Notes version of the pre-dinner festivities goes something like this: Rick Rypien is remarkably good at Wii horseracing, Dan Hamhuis doesn’t know a Wii nunchuck from a real nunchuck, Roberto Luongo takes a little off his shot at table hockey in the spirit of friendly competition, but still doesn’t like to be scored on, and Daniel Sedin is a table hockey shark.

Note: If you’re ever in a situation during a charity event where Daniel is alone at a table hockey game and you feel sorry for him so you pay to play against him, you’ll regret it. He showed no mercy in beating me 5-1.

At the 2010 Sports Celebrities Festival, the 11th event featuring a partnership between Special Olympics BC and the Canucks for Kids Fund, it was as clear as ever it’s a win-win night for everyone.

Oliver is proof of the impact an event like this can have.

The boisterous redhead schmoozed his way around the fun and games room and weaved his way through the silent auction tables throughout the night, followed closely by his father James. Both had ear-to-ear smiles all evening.

When Oliver was born, James was referred to Special Olympics BC as a program that could give his son the quality of life in sports that he deserved. Now seven years later Oliver has already graduated from the Active Start program and is now in Fundamentals; he’s heavily involved in tee ball, baseball, soccer and he’s got a pretty mean slap shot in road hockey.

The impact of Oliver getting the opportunity to compete in sports just like everyone else continues to warm James’ heart.

“I think being involved in sports is really important,” said James. “I think it leads to great social interactions, I think it leads to inclusion, which is important for kids like him, and also just there are so many lessons to learn through sport. So I think it’s fantastic to expose him to that and allow him to learn those lessons.

“If he learns the skills that he’s learning right now through the Special Olympics program, at least he has the option of playing on his community team with the other kids in his classroom or he can play through Special Olympics, or he can do both. It’s just giving him the opportunity, as many opportunities as he can and letting him decide.”

James wasn’t alone in his appreciation for the event. Even heroes have heroes has never been more true; inspiring was the word used by TC Carling, executive director of the Canucks for Kids Fund and vice president of communications & community partnerships for the Canucks, as the feedback he hears from players following the event is always overwhelming.

“Anytime our players can involve themselves in our community initiatives, they get as much or more out of it then the young athletes that they’re working with,” said Carling. “This is an event that is very unique because often times I’ve seen the players with their buddies down at the arena months after the fact. They’ve kept a relationship going. I think it’s inspiring to them.”

Special Olympics BC strides to provide individuals with intellectual disabilities opportunities to enrich their lives and celebrate personal achievement through positive sport experiences, and the organization is involved with more than 3,700 athletes in 55 communities across BC.

Click here for more information.

The Canucks for Kids Fund is in its 25th year of giving back to the community and has granted more than $32 million to education, grassroots hockey development & children’s health and wellness since its inception.

Click here for more information.

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