Special Olympics’ Lakeland Chair, Audrey McFarlane inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Volunteer Recognition

“Giving back, having gratitude, and making a difference (even small) provides me with more than I could ever give.” – Audrey McFarlane.

Audrey McFarlane (bottom row, second from the right) sits with the Lieutenant Governor and 7 other Albertans who were inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence. (Photo provided by Audrey McFarlane.)

By Sarah Spisak

At the end of October, Audrey McFarlane became a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence, one of 212 members across the province. Established in 1979, the Alberta Order of Excellence stands as the highest honor a civilian can achieve in the province and recognizes individuals who have showcased an exceptional commitment to the progress of Alberta.

It is such an honour that someone took the time to nominate me and for the Alberta Order of Excellence Committee to find my work and efforts worthy of such an award is a true honor, and also humbling,” Audrey says. “I am very proud to be part of this Order.”

Audrey was honoured for her extensive work and advocacy for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) which includes developing and founding the Lakeland Center for FASD (LCFASD), the first children’s FASD diagnostic clinic in Alberta.

My work began in about 1993 when I first learned about FASD and then began to educate others,” Audrey says. “The LCFASD then went on under my leadership to develop the first FASD diagnostic clinic for adults in the world.”

Audrey McFarlane with Alberta's 19th Lieutenant Governor, Salma Lakhani. (Photo provided by Audrey McFarlane.)

The LCFASD also has many programs that have gone on to be duplicated by other communities across Alberta, Canada, and the world, including a unique program to support adults with FASD gain employment, and specific youth transitioning processes and programs to move them to adult supports. Audrey’s group was also the first rural group to develop specific supports to women at high risk of having a child with FASD, and then went on to develop the only women’s-only live in substance use treatment program to serve women who were pregnant. 

I am now working at a national level with the Canada FASD Research network to elevate research to inform programs, policy and practice to improve the lives of people with FASD and their families as well as addressing prevention,” Audrey says.


Audrey’s work with Special Olympics Alberta

Before Audrey started working with the FASD community, she was already involved as a volunteer with Special Olympics. Audrey was born and raised in Cold Lake, Alberta and grew up on a farm with her parents and three sisters. Her younger sister, Lynn, has Down syndrome. In 1976, Lynn began track and field and loved it. A few years later, around 1983, Audrey began volunteering to support Lynn as coaching staff was limited in their area.

Lynn McFarlane holds a bowling certificate from Special Olympics Alberta Lakeland. (Photo provided by Audrey McFarlane.)

“I come from a farm family and volunteering for your community, and helping your neighbours has been ingrained in us,” Audrey says. “Lynn loved her experiences with Special Olympics and loved her medals and trophies, so me and my two other sisters have always had a positive feeling about Special Olympics.”

Audrey admits she has zero sport background, laughing that she didn’t even do a sport in high school, but she ended up finding her place in Special Olympics anyways. As time went on, she became more aware of the needs for others with developmental disabilities to be involved in sport and became involved in the club administration side of things.

“Starting the Lac La Biche club when I was in my early 20’s was scary, but the community was so supportive and really waiting for a leader to take on that role,” Audrey remembers. “My journey with Special Olympics really began then. I moved to Bonnyville after that and took on the leadership of that club.”

When Audrey began her own family years later, she found her time was stretched and she was no longer involved in an official way to the local clubs, but still supported Lynn to participate. 

“In 2021, I saw the need to be involved in the Lakeland club again when they lost their volunteers during the pandemic,” Audrey says. “We are in the rebuilding stage again.”

Audrey is the current chair of Special Olympics Lakeland which supports over 40 athletes and says it’s the athletes that fill her emotional cup and keep her being involved in Special Olympics, as well as her sister Lynn.

“My sister Lynn has been an inspiration and to see how sport has helped her with confidence and community acceptance has been amazing,” Audrey says. “Lynn participated in the following sports and went to Provincials or Nationals for many of them: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, swimming, bowling, track and field, bocce, and softball.”

One of Audrey’s favourite memories from Special Olympics is when she attended the National Winter Games in 1988 in New Brunswick with Lynn who was going for cross country skiing.

“Those Games were a huge highlight for me – one athlete from Lakeland (Lynn) and one athlete from Lac La Biche, and 2 coaches. We had so much fun,” Audrey remembers. “For the athlete from Lac La Biche, it was his first time away from family, first plane ride, and first real adventure – it was great being a part of his adventure with him.”

Lynn now lives with dementia and is unable to do many things she once was, but Lynn and Audrey still attend Special Olympics bowling once a week. 

“I have always volunteered my time for some organization or another my entire adult life,” Audrey says. “Giving back, having gratitude, and making a difference (even small) provides me with more than I could ever give.”