In 2004, 14-year old Ashley Adie experienced true inclusion for the first time. During a Special Olympics British Columbia Regional swim meet, Adie would enjoy the competition, but she found something much more than the ribbons and personal bests that day.
She gets chills telling the story: she had waited for an experience like this. "I found everyone so much more accepting, it didn't matter if you came [in] dead last," Adie shared with joy about Special Olympics. "Like, people were still rooting for you and it felt amazing."
A few years before, she had been diagnosed with autism. Her mom, wanting to find ways to keep her active and involved with society, found Special Olympics. Adie was hesitant at first, not sure why her mom had pitched the idea. "It's like, why are you putting me in a Special Olympics group, Mom?" Adie shared.
But after a while, it all made perfect sense! Special Olympics quickly became a huge part of Adie’s life, as she competed and became a decorated athlete at the 2018 Special Olympics Canada Summer Games and the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games. Through competing in snowshoeing and track & field, she was a part of a movement that accepted her for who she is. It's that sense of belonging that gave Adie the confidence to expand her interests into the workplace.
Even on dark winter mornings in Canada, Adie is up early. Her first order of business is taking care of her cats, Lennie and Haley. The pair often act as her alarm clock, preventing her from missing the bus that she takes to Thrifty Foods—a Sobeys supermarket chain in British Columbia, Canada—and her workplace.
"In September 2018, I had started getting help through disability services and they help people like myself find jobs in the community," Adie said. "Previously, I had a sit-down job and I just couldn't handle a sit-down job."
With the help of the disability services, a job shadow was set up at Thrifty Foods within different departments. While the original plan was for her to work in the deli department, she quickly found a spot she belonged. "The guys in grocery ended up liking me so much they were like ‘Nope, she's ours now,’" Adie said.
She never looked back and quickly became a valuable member of the Thrifty Foods team. Her job duties include restocking grocery shelves and assisting customers. But Adie has always been one to go above and beyond.
Although technically a part-time employee, because of COVID-19, she’s there to help out wherever she can. "Lately, the past several weeks with months off and on but especially as of late because of various happenings, I've been pulling up to 40-hour weeks at times," Adie said.
"I'm a part-timer and working full-time," she said.
She exemplifies what it means to be an essential worker during a global pandemic and Sobeys, Thrifty Foods’ parent company, has recognized her value. At the 2020 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games, Adie was featured in a video highlighting Sobeys’ powerful partnership with Special Olympics Canada.
Megan Pollock, Communications Manager for Special Olympics British Columbia, praises Adie’s communication and leadership skills. She regularly keeps her fellow athletes informed of Special Olympics news. Around the province, Adie is known as a "constant voice" of positivity and is very supportive of other Special Olympics athletes.
"It's given me purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning," Adie said about the impact Special Olympics has had on her life. "The best part about Special Olympics is you're accepted for who you are."
It's a feeling Adie wishes she had at a younger age, especially when she thinks back on how nervous she was about entering the workforce. She hopes to share the knowledge that inclusive and accepting workplaces exist with other individuals with diverse abilities.
"It may not seem like it but, on the contrary, there are people out there who are willing to hire people with different neurology’s as long as you prove to them that you're willing to work, you're willing to learn and you demonstrate that you're reliable," Adie said. "Just show you are willing to work and put in the effort for the other employees."
That first Special Olympics swim meet shaped the way Adie would live her life moving forward. She felt what it was like to compete and for the first time, she felt a sense of belonging, though it won't be the last. Each day she continues with that mindset and she continues to thrive.