Elizabeth Manley Shines a Spotlight on Special Olympians

When you think about famous names in Canadian figure skating history, Elizabeth Manley is sure to come to mind. After a historic silver medal win at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Manley instantly became a household name in sport.

Almost 36 years later, Manley returned to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary in a new role – Athlete Ambassador for the 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games. As if it was by fate, the event coincided with the dates of her ‘88 Olympics anniversary. We sat down with Manley to learn more about her experience working Special Olympics Canada and the inspirational athletes she’s met along the way.

“I am proud to say I am part of the Special Olympics,” said Manley. At the 2024 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games this February, Manley conducted coaching clinics and skating workshops for the athletes competing in the event. Although she was there to teach the Special Olympians skills such as stroking, jumping, and spins, it was the athletes themselves who taught Manley valuable lessons. “My greatest learning is that they are just like us,” said Manley of the figure skaters. “You might think you need to adapt [your approach to coaching], but I didn’t feel that.”

At the event, Manley was particularly moved by one young skater named Jack. As a nonverbal athlete, Manley had concerns about she and Jack would communicate. To Manley’s surprise, it was not an issue for Jack. “His mind is so sharp,” Manley recounts, “he would just nod and skate off after I gave him directions. He took it all in and I never needed to change or adapt my approach for him.” Manley learned that working with Special Olympians is the same as working with other high-performance athletes. They are motivated, work hard at their craft, and are excited to have the opportunity to compete. “When you look at these Special Olympians, they are all champions who are being fulfilled by something they love,” said Manley.

Overall, the experience served as an important reminder on the value of representation in sport. Manley shared that she could relate to the stigma that some of the athletes face due to their disabilities. As a skater who suffered from depression before mental health was part of mainstream discourse, people also often looked at her differently. That’s why the work of Special Olympics Canada is so important – the Games provide athletes the opportunity to shine, to pursue excellence, and the visibility to show others that they too can realize their dreams. By the end of the Games, Manley left the event feeling “absolutely inspired.”

She also emphasized that opportunity is a crucial ingredient in increasing representation and fostering greater inclusivity in sport. “There are not enough events,” said Manley. “These athletes need more opportunities to perform and to be highlighted. The more events and the more people witnessing them will make the Special Olympics even bigger and keep athletes involved in sport longer. I believe in my heart we will get there.” So, the next time you see an event in your area, we encourage you to attend and cheer on the athletes. “If you want a day of just pure enjoyment and inspiration, come out and see an event because these athletes will give it to you.”


*Special Olympics Canada is dedicated to enriching the lives of Canadians with an intellectual disability through sport.

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  1. […] As the Special Olympics Canada continues to enrich the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities through sports, Manley’s involvement serves as a shining example of the impact that representation and inclusivity can have in the world of athletics. The next time an opportunity arises to support these remarkable athletes, let’s all come together to celebrate their achievements and share in the joy and inspiration they bring. Reference […]

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