Tommy MacGuigan has attended 17 Special Olympics national games and a world games and has no plans on slowing down.
The Charlottetown native is off to Thunder Bay, Ont., Sunday morning with Team P.E.I. for his 18th national competition. He has been involved with Special Olympics for 37 years, five years before it became an incorporated, charitable organization in P.E.I. He is the only current active athlete to be involved from Day 1.
“I will not stop playing for a very long time because I love playing and being a leader,” he said.
MacGuigan was recognized Wednesday night with an inspiration award at the Sport P.E.I. awards. He received a standing ovation following his speech.
MacGuigan got involved with Special Olympics after playing house league hockey. He has tried every sport but has mainly focused on floor hockey and softball.
“I remember playing floor hockey with skateboard helmets and makeshift pads. Today, we use much better equipment, and the skill level is so much better, too.”
MacGuigan also received the Dr. Frank Hayden Athlete Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. It is presented by Special Olympics Canada to an athlete who best exemplifies the spirit, philosophy and goals of the Special Olympics movement during their career.
“Tommy is kind of looked upon as the grandfather, I guess, of all the athletes,” said Special Olympics P.E.I. executive director Charity Sheehan. “He is really one of the leaders within the softball and floor hockey teams and he loves to take new athletes under his wing and kind of show them the ropes.”
He is also relied on for his wealth of knowledge of Special Olympics on P.E.I.
“He’s part of the fabric of our organization,” Sheehan said. “He’s just an all-around gentleman, and we’re just really excited for him and the year that he has had.”
MacGuigan has attended one worlds as part of the softball team.
“But that’s not necessarily the thing that fuels him,” Sheehan said. “He has just such an enormous love of sport and being involved in sport, and I think that’s really what has kept him (involved) leading into his 18th national games, just that pure joy that he gets from participating.”
Sport P.E.I. past president Ron Waite presented MacGuigan with the inspiration award on Wednesday.
“Over his career, Tommy MacGuigan has inspired others with his commitment, passion and love of sport,” he said.
MacGuigan volunteers at community events and speaks at schools to promote Special Olympics. He said his favourite memories were attending the world games in Greece in 2011 and when P.E.I. hosted the 2004 nationals.
MacGuigan was grateful for the recognition and thanked his wife, mother, siblings and coaches for their support.
“I got involved because I wanted a few friends, but I was given a family,” he said. “I am forever thankful and encourage others to get involved, not only for the competition but to improve their whole life.”
Team P.E.I. for next week's games consists of 38 athletes and 11 coaches competing in five-pin bowling, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, floor hockey, snowshoeing and speed skating. There are seven mission staff going to support the team in Thunder Bay. MacGuigan is part of the floor hockey team.