ANTIGONISH, N.S. - It is their first time in Nova Scotia – and now they may never leave.
Sheila and Wes Bradford have made their way to Antigonish to watch their son, Jess Hansen, swim for Team B.C. in the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games in Antigonish.
Friday morning, before Jess competed in the 25m freestyle at St. F.X.’s Alumni Aquatic Centre, the couple reflected on their ongoing Games’ experience.
“Absolutely wonderful,” Wes said, while proudly donning a cap emblazoned with the logo of the Ballantyne’s Cove Bluefin Tuna Interpretive Centre, a souvenir of his visit to the Antigonish County attraction.
“The people here are phenomenal,” Sheila added.
She described the work organizers and volunteers in Antigonish have put into the Games as “unbelievable.”
“I can’t believe how nice everybody is here – it’s incredible,” Sheila said.
She continued her praise of the Games – and its hosts – with a seemingly endless string of thoughtful adjectives.
“For a town of this size to host an event of this magnitude – unbelievable,” Sheila said.
“What an effort by the people,” Wes added.
Organizers said such comments have been commonplace throughout the week.
“On almost every measurable scale, things have exceeded anything we had hoped for the Games,” Antigonish Organizing Committee co-chair Marc Champoux said.
“Although, like we have said before, we had every expectation that the community and the campus would answer the bell and they have, for sure.”
He described the feedback as “unbelievable.”
“We can’t go 50 feet without someone stopping us and thanking us, and telling us what a great experience it has been for them and their families,” Champoux added.
Special Olympics Nova Scotia (SONS) chair Robin McNeil, while in between venue visits Friday morning, described the Games as “unbelievable.”
“They are really enjoying their time,” he said, of his conversations with representatives from other provincial Special Olympics’ organizations.
McNeil said of the Antigonish university campus, which has served as home not only for the athletes, but also the bulk of the competitions, as a "spectacular location."
“People have just really embraced it and they have done a really great job,” he added, reflecting on the effort of organizers and volunteers.
Like Champoux, he has been hearing great things from visitors, noting there were several conversations Thursday evening during a family and friends celebration.
“There are folks who have travelled to World Games and to National Games, in other locations, and they just can’t stop saying enough about how great it’s been,” McNeil said.
‘Thank you so much’
Back at the pool, the Bradfords were focussed on lane four, where Jess, who had garnered two bronze medals to that point of the competition, finished his heat.
“He is an amazing individual,” Wes said, with a wide smile, as Sheila did the same, while nodding in agreement.
They noted Jess has been recognized for his work in helping others with special needs to learn to ride horses.
A Special Olympics’ athlete for 20 years, Jess received a Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada earlier this year in Victoria.
Before heading off to congratulate their son, Sheila stopped to deliver one more message.
“Thank you so much – make sure to thank Antigonish for everything,” she said.
Competition in the 2018 Summer Games wraps up Saturday, with the closing ceremony set for 7 p.m. at St. F.X.’s Keating Centre.