Dr. Carly McMorris Awarded the Special Olympics Alberta Local Golisano Health Leadership Award.

Volunteer Recognition

Dr. Carly McMorris has spent the last five years working with athletes both locally and around the world to learn coping strategies and tools that better their mental health and sport performance in their Special Olympics careers.

By Sarah Spisak

Dr. Carly McMorris was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan, and refers to herself as a prairie girl to her core, but her Special Olympics journey didn’t begin there. In fact, Dr. McMorris got her start with Special Olympics USA in 2018 when she was trained as a Clinical Director for Strong Minds, an area of the Healthy Athletes program focused on developing adaptive coping skills, at the USA Summer Games.

“I became involved after hearing about the Strong Minds discipline in Healthy Athletes from my dear colleague and friend, Jamie Vallis,” Dr. McMorris says. “Given that my research and clinical work are focused on improving the mental health of people with neurodevelopmental differences, I really wanted to learn more about providing athletes with coping strategies to help prevent significant lifelong mental health issues from developing.”

The energy and excitement Dr. McMorris experienced at the USA Games inspired her to bring her work with the Healthy Athletes program back to Calgary and Canada where she works as an Associate Professor (with tenure) at the University of Calgary at the School and Applied Child Psychology Program, Werklund School of Education, and as a registered clinical psychologist.

Dr. Carly McMorris (second from the left) at the 2018 USA Summer Games. (Provided by Dr. Carly McMorris.)

Since returning, Dr. McMorris has worked on many projects within the Healthy Athletes program. As one of few Canadian Clinical Directors for Strong Minds, she has been heavily involved in implementing Strong Minds in Alberta and nationally, working on projects that teach coping strategies to athletes at local competitions, Provincial and National Games.

During the pandemic, Dr. McMorris’ team partnered with researchers and clinicians at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Ontario and held weekly mindfulness sessions that were attended by hundreds of athletes globally. With Special Olympics Alberta, Dr. McMorris and her team at the ENHANCE Lab helped facilitate many PEAK sessions that focused on teaching coping strategies to athletes as well as fostering social support.

It is because of these many projects and her dedication to the Healthy Athletes program that Dr. McMorris was awarded the Special Olympics Alberta Local Golisano Health Leadership Award at the end of 2023.

Dr. Carly McMorris and athletes at the 2023 Special Olympics Alberta Winter Games. (Provided by Dr. Carly McMorris.)

I feel extremely honoured to be a recipient of this award,” Dr. McMorris says. “I feel very grateful to be a part of the Special Olympics community and have learned so much over the past 5 years.

“I would like to thank so many folks that have supported me over the past few years from the Special Olympics community. I am very grateful for all the support I have received. I am also very thankful to the athletes and their families for teaching me and inspiring me to do the work I do, as well as my own family for being my biggest cheerleaders.”

When asked why people should support Special Olympics Alberta and the Healthy Athletes program, Dr. McMorris says that the program offers a unique opportunity to support the unique health needs of people with intellectual disabilities.

“These individuals face numerous barriers in accessing appropriate, timely and effective services, which can have detrimental impact on their overall health, quality of life and well-being,” Dr. McMorris says. “I appreciate being able to teach athletes the importance of a strong mind in sport and how one can achieve that. It’s truly inspiring to see athletes learning and implementing the coping strategies and tools we teach them.”