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Ignite Spotlight on Business by Quin Hauck

Motionball's Recipe for Success

As a country-spanning non-profit, Motionball knows the homegrown recipe needed for success. Motionball is a proud partner of Special Olympics Canada, which provides positive, engaging sport opportunities to hundreds of athletes with an intellectual disability.  Motionball’s goal is to introduce the next generation of volunteers and donors to the international movement through integrated social and sporting events.

Director of Motionball Calgary, Annelise Milliken states: “Community – that is [what] built us. We are a small grassroots organization that came from this random brainchild of an all-day sporting event... We embody that, and that’s the beauty of Motionball; it’s that we start small in every city and build it from there. What I’d say about Calgary in general is that we have that ‘Western Hospitality,’” Milliken says, “where we have [a sense of] community and are just natural givers. Especially [with Motionball] we have so many dedicated volunteers. They will do any and everything and are always willing to raise a hand.”

Paul Horton, volunteer and Motionball board member, is no stranger to this approach, embodying the ‘give’ when first entrenching himself and the Special Olympics movement into the untapped Calgary ecosystem almost two decades ago. “I started knocking on doors… I printed out 3,000 event cards—they looked horrible— I’m not a graphic designer,” Horton laughs. “I’d go to the bar on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and I’d do a loop of the bar and find people that look like they were fun and outgoing… I’d say, ‘hey look, here’s an awesome charity that makes a profound and lasting difference in people’s lives, and you probably didn’t know anything about it—and yet it’s right in your backyard.’”

Paul Horton & Annelise Milliken///Motionball

Paul Horton & Annelise Milliken///Motionballignite calgary
ignite calgaryignite calgaryPaul Horton & Annelise Milliken///Motionball

Horton’s determination plays as a microcosm of the Calgary mindset. Whether through the Marathon of Sport, an all-day fundraising sport tournament, or the celebratory Motionball Gala, Calgary and its volunteers have embraced the cause. “We’re a community-minded people; our parents started that way and have passed it down… Across the country, we are the ones most willing to raise our hands—and that’s a very general statement,” Milliken laughs, “but we really are willing to volunteer and step up and be that next generation of makers.”

While the support is made palpable by the numbers, this is nothing new for Calgarians. It’s apparent as Special Olympics Calgary is proudly the largest affiliate in Alberta, under the great leadership of Kathy Urquhart who has been the Executive Director for nearly 30 years. Locally, they provide 33 different programs and 21 sports year round to over 1600 participants. “Motionball Calgary has been instrumental in raising funds and awareness for Special Olympics in Calgary. Not only do they raise much needed funding for us to run our local programs, but most of their members also choose to become actively involved as volunteers within our weekly programs.” says Kathy.

 Resilience has been essential to the health and heart of Motionball during these trying times. “The last two years certainly have been challenging for a lot of people and a lot of different charities… Being an in-person, not-for-profit event has created some real challenges for us,” says Horton.

As Milliken explains, the challenges especially apply to the athletes themselves. “While [COVID] was hard for a lot of us, it was significantly harder for those that are Special Olympic athletes that got their social networks completely taken away. That’s a huge piece of every person’s life,” says Milliken.

As an emotional Horton explains, sport itself is not the soul of the organization: “People assume it’s about sports, raising funds, that sort of thing, but number one really is creating those social networks, creating a community, and friendships in that way… For a lot of the population, we just don’t have any understanding of the short stack that gets dealt to people who have an intellectual disability… Typically, their entire lives they have been bullied, picked on, excluded, made to feel different… Through the Special Olympics and through the power of sport, there’s this recognition of their human potential… they have their own group of friends, they get to learn life skills, they get to feel this level of inclusion… It's awesome to see the Calgary community around it grow over the last decade.”

In the face of obstacles, Motionball and its Calgary family manage to create modern solutions to modern problems. “It goes beyond just a fun day,” Milliken explains, “Every Tuesday, we host a call with athletes from Alberta, and we just sit and we chat. We gab for an hour and a half –and that is the point –we really want to make sure that they’re still socially involved.”

As the non-profit continues to raise funds for the Special Olympics community, the twilight days of the pandemic foretell of a better future; Calgary persists in the recognition of human potential. As Horton embraces it, “Seeing the difference that Special Olympics makes in athletes’ lives is the reason why 18 years later I’m still involved… There’s no doubt in my mind that every dollar we raise has a profound and lasting impact on both the athletes and their families.”

Check out the Motionball website (https://motionball.com) for volunteer opportunities and upcoming events.