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Stealing the show

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

When the NHL lockout began in September, Katie Durkin feared the worst.

Not that the season would eventually be canceled – no no, much worse. She feared Vancouver Canucks forward Chris Higgins wouldn’t be able to attend the 2012 Sports Celebrities Festival as her date.

Katie, a 23-year-old Special Olympics athlete with an intellectual disability, was the spokesperson for last Friday’s Sports Celebrities Festival and because of hockey's squabblings, she attended without her arm candy.

Higgins has no idea what he missed.

Katie stole the show with a touching speech midway through the evening where she explained how important Special Olympics BC is to her and how much she’s changed since joining.

Her mother, Michele, urged Katie to join when she was young, but it was in one ear and out the other. Then, while attending Douglas College in New Westminster five years ago, Katie met Lindsay, a Special Olympics athlete, who told her to join.

From then on, Special Olympics was the bee’s knees.

“Lindsay just wanted me to join and I joined,” laughed Katie. “It’s good, I’ve loved it ever since.

“You get to meet people that you have never met before that are around your age that you get along with and you get to do the same sports that your friends do.”

Katie competes in swimming, track and field, bowling and soccer and has won more gold, silver and bronze medals than Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt combined (well, almost) and there’s more winning to come with the 2013 Special Olympics BC Summer Games in Langley on the horizon.

The medals are nice, but they don’t compare to the friends Katie has made.

“When she was growing up, she really didn’t have friends, she didn’t really fit in, most kids her age were way more advanced than she is, so she got left behind,” said Michele. “But when she got into Special Olympics, her life took off. She has made lifelong friendships and experienced great joy through her participation and achievements, and she thrives in the welcoming, supportive community.”

Thanks to the Sports Celebrities Festival, presented by Silver Wheaton, athletes like Katie make lasting friendships, while experiencing the thrill of sport.

Now in its 14th year, the Sports Celebrities Festival has raised more than $2.6 million to support the valuable programs of both Special Olympics BC and the Canucks for Kids Fund. This year's event featured comedy from Brent Butt, a three-song set from Jann Arden, a silent auction and the always popular Heads & Tails game.

According to Special Olympics BC chair Pamela Keith, who also sits on the Canucks for Kids Board, the event is always one of the kind.

“It always brings a smile to everyone’s face,” said Keith. “It’s so important for the athletes, this is a very special night for them, they get to be part of something and they are just wonderful athletes; it doesn’t matter if they’re two-years-old or some of our oldest athletes are 82-years-old.

“Plus it’s a huge fundraiser for us and we’re very fortunate to partner with the Canucks for Kids Fund and the Vancouver Canucks to make this all happen.”

The event was once again a rousing success, except the whole Chris Higgins thing.

“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” smiled Katie.

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