The 28-year-old from Kamloops was the poster boy for the 2015 Sports Celebrities Festival, presented by Silver Wheaton, held Tuesday night at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Alongside Canucks forward Chris Higgins, Gilchrist fulfilled three main duties: smile for the cameras, give media interviews and deliver a moving keynote speech.
Gilchrist, who was nominated for the Kamloops Sports Council Male Athlete of the Year Award after racing for Team BC at the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games in Vancouver, stood proud at the podium and left a lasting impression with three words.
“I am very into swimming,” he began, after introducing himself. “I like learning new things and training. I like to support the team and the coaches. I do really well in swimming and it is my favourite thing in the world. I feel super.”
Gilchrist paused and a smile overwhelmed his face.
The Sports Celebrities Festival, now in its 17th year, has raised more than $3.6 million in support of Special Olympics BC and the Canucks for Kids Fund. Funds help empower athletes with intellectual disabilities to gain confidence, acceptance, and pride through sport, and also provide vital opportunities, resources, and care to children and families throughout B.C.
That mission is clearly being accomplished.
Is there anything more powerful than a once shy individual living with special needs standing in front of a soldout gala, empowered, professing his love for sport?
Before the room saluted Gilchrist with a standing ovation, he ended his speech with a bang.
“I have learned lots from Special Olympics, but most of all I have learned you need to have heart in everything you try.
“Don’t give up. Be yourself. Be who you are. And most of all, have fun!”
Chris Higgins know this firsthand.
Higgins’ older sister Jeanne is a Special Olympics athlete in New York, their hometown. She’s a competitive swimmer who might as well have gills she’s so at home in the water.
The Canucks forward spoke before Dallas, discussing his sister and how when she was born, the Higgins family was told she’d never walk.
That was exactly what the Higgins family needed to hear. By age eight Jeanne was walking and “the impossible became possible.”
Hoping to lighten the mood before Dallas spoke, Higgins hilariously drew parallels between Special Olympians and NHL athletes.
“For us on the Canucks, we can draw parallels to this,” said Higgins. “Throughout our careers people have told us we’re not strong enough to make the team, not big enough to make the team, or in Alex Burrows’ case, he’s too French to make the team. And that continues to this day, just this morning I overheard someone tell Jake Virtanen he’s too fat to play in the NHL. Granted he was on his fourth piece of chocolate chip banana bread, it was adversity nonetheless.”
Laugh out loud. Repeat.
“In all seriousness,” he continued, “Special Olympics is a ceiling breaking organization and I’ve seen it first hand. Thank you for everything you do.”
Click here to learn more about Special Olympics BC.