Ice Network

Salé cherishes time working with Special Olympics

Olympic gold medalist values family, impacting special needs community
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Olympic pairs champion Jamie Salé poses with athletes at the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 in Austria. -Courtesy of Jamie Salé

These days, family life consumes much of Jamie Salé's time. Mother to Jesse, 9, and Samantha, 3, Salé enjoys a life away from the rush of touring and competing.

Despite a busy schedule, she and husband Craig Simpson, a former NHL player and now a broadcaster with Hockey Night in Canada, make time for volunteering with Special Olympics. In March, Salé accompanied the Canadian delegation to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.

"Everybody thinks that I would be inspiring to them, but actually I get way more out of it than they do," the 2002 Olympic pairs champion said. "We get caught up in all the things in our sports and we sometimes forget why we started. When I'm around these athletes, they remind me of being a kid again. The pure joy, happiness, friendships, camaraderie and sportsmanship that they show is exactly how kids start in sports.

"They have smiles on their faces all the time and they're happy to be there," she added. "Obviously, some of them are very competitive and they're there to win, but they're grateful for the moment."

Working with Special Olympics Canada brings Salé back to the sheer joy of sport. She said it fills her heart and brings her great joy.  

"I often have a hard time leaving my kids, but then when I get around these athletes, I'm in such a happy place," she said. "Some of them don't necessarily know who I am or what I've done in skating. They're told I'm a gold medalist and I'm there to support them, so they're extremely loving, caring and appreciative."

The Games took place in several locations in Austria, including Schladming and Graz, and Salé was not the only figure skating Olympian in attendance. Michelle Kwan -- who is on the international board of Special Olympics -- as well as Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were also on hand.

This also was not Salé's first international trip for Special Olympics: She previously attended the World Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2015.

Salé began working with Special Olympics five years ago. She spent three years on the Alberta board and is now in her second year on the national board. In Canada, she's an ambassador. She also works with swimming Olympian Mark Tewksbury on the Champions Network, a group of high-profile athletes and celebrities that spread the positive word of Special Olympics.

Being hands-on with the athletes is what fuels Salé's fire. She was told she could walk with the Canadian delegation in the opening ceremony, and when she arrived, athletes from all around the world were waiting to be called.

Upon locating the Canadian team, Salé stood up on a bench and shouted "Canada!" In reply, they started chanting her name.

"Jamie! Jamie! Jamie! I was crying and hugging everybody," she said.

On the home front, Salé delights in being a mom. Jesse is a goalie on his hockey team, and he also plays baseball. Samantha just started to learn to skate this winter, and she is also into gymnastics and dance. With the popularity of skating in Canada, Salé figures it's good she learn to skate. Samantha is also into gymnastics and dance.

Despite the busy schedule, Salé's commitment to Special Olympics is essential to her and those whose lives she touches.

"When I talk to families who have someone in sports, it's been a game changer in their lives," Salé said. "Instead of creating boundaries and limits for them, we're giving them opportunities to express themselves and be treated with respect and show us what they're capable of doing."