How Murray and Heather Manliak give back to Special Olympics

Earlier this year, while accepting The Company Driver of the Year award at the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention, veteran driver Murray Manuliak of Bison Transport credited his success to safety. “If I had to name one factor that’s brought me to today’s achievement, it’s certainly safety,” Manuliak told the crowd that night. “As professional drivers, we have a responsibility to be sure we are keeping ourselves and people around us on the road safe. I keep safety in the forefront of everything I do. I drive safe. I teach safety to new Bison drivers. Safety is at the foundation of my success.”

What Manuliak also could have spoken about is his generous heart. The 24-year veteran and current Bison Transport driver spends a lot of his downtime in Winnipeg, Manitoba helping the local chapter of The Special Olympics. Together with his wife, Heather, a self-described “stay at home grandmother,” the Manuliaks organize cookouts throughout the year to raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics chapters.

And they want you to do it, too.

Let’s Get Cookin’

Murray and Heather Manuliak have two grandchildren who participate in the Special Olympics. Their interest in the Special Olympics programs started with their grandson, Alic. The family enrolled him in a rhythmic gymnastics program at the age of 8, and followed him to competitions in Winnipeg.

“It helps them work with their motor skills, to work with balls, ropes and hula hoops,” Heather said.

“He wasn’t doing much in school because it was hard for him to learn,” Murray added.

The couple started small. Murray spoke about a “World’s Longest Trucking Convoy” that takes place annually in Winnipeg in September that raises funds for Special Olympics. He drove in it, but felt like he wasn’t doing enough.

Little by little, the family got more and more involved in the local chapter of the Special Olympics in their corner of Canada. But as they got more involved, they recognized the need for deeper resources. As Heather notes, the local chapter only asks for $25 a year for registration. Both Murray and Heather thought that the amount was too small, given the amount of activities that the local Special Olympics program does.

“They give so much and ask for so little,” Heather said.

So the Manuliaks came up with a method to raise more money on their own.

“We thought, why don’t we put on a big barbecue here to raise money for Special Olympics?” Heather said.

So that’s what they did. They bought their own supplies, set up a grill, and sponsored a local barbecue that benefitted the Special Olympics. Proceeds from the sales at the barbecue go to the Special Olympics. In addition to raising money, the cookout brings a lot of awareness to needs at the local programs, according to Heather.

“I get everything ready, and I make sure that Murray does all of the cooking,” Heather said with a laugh.

Every year, the event gets bigger and bigger. After the first barbecue, Heather realized they had a lot of donated products left over. So the Manuliaks took those leftovers and started other barbecues for similar sports programs throughout the year, such as local soccer tournaments. Once again, all proceeds go to the Special Olympics.

A Special Need

The Special Olympics, according to its official website, is “the leading voice in raising awareness about the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. Through sports, we showcase the skills and dignity of our athletes. We also bring together communities to see and take part in the transformative power of sports.”

This, in a nutshell, captures Murray and Heather Manuliak’s journey of service. Years ago, while taking their grandson to numerous athletic activities through the Special Olympics, Heather noticed that Alic was the only boy in the program. And she noticed that the adult programs had better representation in the coaching field than the children did.

“There are more adult athletes than there are younger kids,” Heather tells us. “Our problem here is that we don’t have enough coaches to work with the younger ones, so the boys work with the younger ones.”

Alic got very involved in multiple sports: soccer; ten-pin bowling; rhythmic gymnastics; floor hockey, and softball. Alic’s brother Marcus also has a disability, which means Murray and Heather’s work will continue. The boys both love soccer, and keep returning to 10-pin bowling.

But in all of these activities, the Manuliaks recognize a need for volunteers and coaches.

“We need volunteers,” Heather said. “The biggest problem is, yes they can find coaches for the older athletes, but they can’t find coaches for the younger athletes.”

Heather stresses that you don’t even have to be very experienced if you want to get involved and help.

“If you’ve got knowledge of a sport, you are more than welcome to come help,” Heather said.

According to the Special Olympics website, there are nearly 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. The organization works hard to reach out to all of them, as well as their families and communities. They do this through “a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fund-raising events,” and also by creating “opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to team together to change attitudes and support athletes.”

Can you get involved? If you are looking for ways to donate your time and energy to the Special Olympics, like Heather and
Murray Manuliak do, visit http://www.specialolympics.org/north-america/ today and
learn how to register for an event or program near you.