Working inside the walls of Vanier Centre for Women in Milton can be a tough job; one where the officers don’t always receive credit for the hard work they do. Two members of Vanier’s Staff, Tijana Lakovic and Tyler Tripkovic, have found personal solace outside of their usual job responsibilities through volunteer work with Special Olympics and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Tijana was completing basic training at the Correctional Services College in Hamilton when she participated in her first Special Olympics event – a Polar Plunge – and was and instantly hooked! “From that moment on, I knew this charity deserved my personal commitment and contribution moving forward,” said Tijana. In addition to participating in runs and selling t-shirts, Tijana has recently championed the sales of Correctional Services ‘Hero Bears’, which are cute, cuddly plush toys outfitted in Correctional Services uniforms. “The first order sold out almost immediately and we are working on a new batch. Everyone loves the bears and it’s a fun way to raise money for Special Olympics.”
Tijana’s volunteer commitments do not stop there. In addition to her fundraising work with the Torch Run, she is also an active volunteer with Special Olympics basketball where “the smiles on the athlete’s face is what brings me back and drives me to work harder and raise more money each year.”
When asked what Special Olympics means to her, Tijana emphatically answered “Special Olympics to me is the ultimate revolution through inclusion. This program and the organization is more valuable than most can truly appreciate, until they are submerged amongst the smiling, thankful faces! The joy of watching an athletes learn a new skill or participate in a sport, or even feel as part of a team is the true blessing which comes from Special Olympics.”
Tyler has been a volunteer with Special Olympics for 10 years and actively involved with the Torch Run for four years. In 2010, Tyler volunteered with Kitchener-Waterloo Special Olympics in three sports: powerlifting, softball and 5-pin bowling. It was in 2016 that he was introduced to the Torch Run and knew right away he wanted to be involved in this movement alongside his Law Enforcement brethren.
When asked about his drive to volunteer, Tyler confidently answered that his motivation has always been the athletes. “When I was coaching I saw firsthand what the power of sport and team work does to those with intellectual disabilities. There is no better feeling than seeing the athletes making friends with one another and creating countless memories.”
Within the Torch Run, Tyler has affectionately become known as the “Protein Shaker Guy” as it was his persistence to establish a relationship with Popeyes Supplements that lead to the creation of LETR co-branded protein shakers as a fundraising initiative. To date, these shakers have raised over $50,000 for Special Olympics! Tyler is motivated to maintain the success, explaining that “More money means more opportunity for athletes. Special Olympics represents inclusion and acceptance of all people including those with intellectual disabilities. It means having people involved through the love of sports and allowing the athletes to build confidence and feel that they are part of a community that will support them through their lives. As Law Enforcement Officers, we can make a difference. We can fundraise, volunteer, and change lives, its amazing!”
When asked why others should get involved with Special Olympics both Tijana and Tyler had earnest, heartfelt answers. Tijana suggests “attend a Final Leg, this is where you can truly feel the love and energy and see the pride and inclusion which we as the Law Enforcement Community have established for these folks!”.
Tyler has a similar sentiment on just what YOU get out of volunteering, saying “I believe other people should get involved with the LETR because you have the opportunity to change the lives of thousands of people. You will be inspired by the stories from the athletes and the positive energy you get from being around them. This is an organization that once you start becoming involved you will never want to quit. I have been a supporter of the LETR from day one and it's the best decision I’ve ever made!”
Thank you to Tyler, Tijana and all the volunteers at Vanier Centre for Women. You truly do make a difference in the lives of Special Olympics athletes!