Special Olympics British Columbia British Columbia

Meet Coach Dawn Henderson

25 June 2018

A committed Special Olympics BC – Nanaimo coach of almost 20 years, Dawn Henderson says helping athletes achieve their goals is incredibly rewarding.

Henderson coaches swimming and Club Fit, and she says this gives her an opportunity to work with an amazing group of coaches and athletes. Henderson and fellow coaches Andrew Ferguson, Ryan Hardisty, Carla Henderson, Carmon Henderson, and Darik Schaap work hard to help SOBC – Nanaimo athletes succeed in the pool. Each member of this team plays an important role in supporting a swimming program that helps athletes learn new skills, increase their fitness levels, and lead healthy lifestyles.

Henderson started up with SOBC because her daughter Carla Henderson was interested in getting involved as a coach. Since then, Carla has moved out of the community, but she still helps coach SOBC – Nanaimo’s swimming program and maintains an excellent relationship with the athletes.

Henderson appreciates how SOBC gives athletes opportunities to participate in different sports, which helps them stay fit and become great all-around competitors. She loves how Special Olympics emphasizes learning skills in a fun environment, and she says being part of SOBC is a wonderful experience for athletes, coaches, and other volunteers.

When did you start with Special Olympics, and how did you get involved?

We had recently moved to Nanaimo and our daughter came home after the first day of school and said she had been asked to come out and join Special Olympics as a volunteer. So we both signed up for Club Fit on Wednesday nights. Shortly after that, I joined Masters Swimming, and within a month we were both asked by the swimming coach to come out and help with the SOBC – Nanaimo swimming program.

It was through our daughter Carla’s own gift of mentoring swimmers in the pool (she had been a competitive swimmer and a breath away from a national time at ten years of age) and my experience as an official at events up to Olympic trials, that we were able to develop a program based on learning skills for life by following the rulebook and having a good time while doing it. We developed proper programs for strength and fitness in the gym and for swimming, emphasizing safety and respect (Aims with Games). The ultimate goal was helping athletes be fit for life, even when they are 95! Carla still makes up the workouts for the senior swimmers and critiques the videos to help them improve. Carmon and Andrew do the gym portion and Ryan and Darik coach swimming for beginners and do stroke corrections.

What has been your most memorable Special Olympic experience?

Well, each practice brings more than one memorable experience! Zack, who was ten years old, went to his first swim meet at a Regional Qualifier. He travelled with the team while his mother followed later so she could be there in time to watch him swim. Melinda swam an arm’s length ahead of Zack while he did 50 metres on a kickboard. What happened next is unheard of in generic swimming – everyone in the bleachers started chanting, “Go Zack Go!” They cheered him on and gave him a standing ovation at the finish! Nobody cared how long the meet was held up for! Melinda jumped out and onto her block and raced her 100-metre event, qualifying for Provincial Games. Zack qualified for Provincial Games four years later, along with four other athletes!

What is your favorite thing about being involved with SOBC?

There are a few favourite things not just one. First, there is the pure acceptance of yourself and the feeling of great accomplishment with even the smallest achievement an athlete makes. All of their achievements are huge to me! I love it that they have so many sports to be involved with, and the sports are all great cross-training for each individual athlete. You can stay very fit by doing many sports. I look at all the athletes that have come into our swimming program and go on to compete in and participate in the other programs. Most were non-swimmers when they signed up. We develop a solid aerobic and anaerobic program so that the athlete is fit to move into any of the winter and summer sports offered. They also do very well in generic swimming. Within the swim program, we offer mental skills training, nutrition education, and how to shop according to a label (portion control is different than size).

What would you like others to know about SOBC – Nanaimo?

It’s a great Local with lots to offer for athletes, coaches, and volunteers. The emphasis is on offering new skills in a fun environment. No matter what kind of day you are having, nothing makes you feel better than to go out and watch the athletes enjoying themselves while they are having fun in your chosen program. Coaching and volunteering with athletes with intellectual disabilities will reward you in ways you can’t imagine. A learning curve for both the athletes and you!


SOBC – Nanaimo coach Dawn Henderson (right) with her daughter and fellow coach Carla Henderson

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