Jodi Flanagan: Caring for her Community

Volunteer Recognition

By Sarah Spisak

Jodi Flanagan knew immediately that Special Olympics would be a part of her life for a long time. Her background in kinesiology and figure skating led her to get involved as a figure skating coach 33 years ago in Calgary and she has been an active member of Special Olympics ever since, holding many roles including coach, mission staff and committee member.

“One day, a fellow coach who knew my background mentioned that Special Olympics was looking for figure skating coaches and I jumped on it,” Jodi says. “I’ll never forget my first day arriving at the rink and being greeted by athlete, Peter, with the friendliest smile and warm hug.

“I knew I was in the right place.”

At the end of 2022, Jodi, along with four other Special Olympics volunteers and athletes, were awarded the Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Award for their dedication to Special Olympics and their communities.

“I received the Queens Golden Jubilee award in 2002 and again this year, 20 years later. I don’t think the people who nominated and selected me this time knew I had received it before which makes it more special as it means I’m still contributing a valuable service!” Jodi says.

“Overall, its an honour. But its an honour that a single person may be granted, but certainly not earned alone. I may have possession of a wonderful medal, but there are a lot of people behind it from within the Special Olympics organization as well as my family and friends who encourage and support me.”

Blain Fuller has been a coach with Special Olympics in Wetaskiwin for as long as Jodi has been a part of Special Olympics, and their friendship spans almost as long having attended many Provincial and National games together.

“We have faced all kinds of things over the years,” Blain recalls. “The most notable would be the PEI Winter Games in 2004 when we faced the storm of the century.

“She was the team manager, but just her positive attitude and willingness to go above and beyond to support the athletes she was in charge of is one thing that sticks with me to this day.

“Her smile is contagious, her spirit is kind, her confidence is comforting, and her positive outlook is simply refreshing,” Blain says. “She exemplifies what it means to be a leader in the Special Olympics; no hidden agenda, just love for a positive recreation experience.

“She has been a trainer and confidant for me, and I look up to and respect working with her very much.”

It’s that positive attitude and spirit that athlete Lawrence Lord remembers during the 2020 National Games in Thunder Bay where Jodi was the Chef de Mission. Lawrence was there with Blain and their floor hockey team.

“We were struggling at Nationals,” Lawrence remembers. “We had a giant meeting as a team with Jodi, almost like an inspirational meeting. She got us out of our slump. It seemed that after we had that meeting, everything went better.

“She’s a fun person, she really is. She’s easy to get along with, she knows how to crack jokes and is an all round very humble person.”

As much as Jodi has left a lasting impression on the athletes and coaches around her, they have also left a lasting impression on her.

“I have a pretty wonderful life and Special Olympics just enriches it. It’s so much more than just giving back to your community. It’s a lifestyle or an outlook. It’s a second family,” Jodi says.

“The athletes teach you something new every day and I can still say that 33 years into it.”

Jodi has many plans for her ongoing future with Special Olympics, but for her immediate future, she is looking forward to joining Team Canada at Worlds in Berlin this summer.

“I am very much looking forward to walking in with Team Canada to the Olympic Stadium in Berlin this coming June and watching our national athletes being their best selves!” Jodi says.

“Do you need to be inspired? It’s here every day! And sometimes, if you just want non-judgmental, down to earth, genuine people and fun, Special Olympics is the place to be.”