Special Olympics Is Truly Special and Much More Than Just Sports
I am a relatively new FAN of Special Olympics. While I have always thought of Special Olympics as a great idea and concept, I have always been a supporter from a distance. My mentality was “Special Olympics is great for other people’s children, not necessarily mine”. I thought my daughter would be able to succeed in the typical gymnastics, soccer and dance classes. Of course, after enrolling and paying for these classes, they always left me more frustrated as these teachers, coaches and instructors did not know how to work with, or understand my child. No matter how much I tried to prepare them in advance about my child’s skills and ask for their help in teaching her, they just didn’t have the understanding to work with my child.
As usual, I had to get past myself to allow my daughter new opportunities. My daughter began playing in the Special Olympics Soccer program 2 years ago. I never truly understood Special Olympics role, value or importance until I was involved in it.
This year, I was fortunate to attended Florida’s Special Olympics 37th annual State Summer Games that were held in May at Disney’s Wide World of Sports® Complex I was one of the chaperones for my daughter’s soccer team.
As a first time attendee, I must say that it was a remarkable event. Over 2,500 Special Olympics athletes, coaches and family members from 42 counties took part in the two-day event (Friday and Saturday). Of those attendees, there were 1,550 athletes of all ages and skill levels competing in soccer, track and field, cycling, tennis, bocce and volleyball. In addition, there were 1,200 volunteers who helped to make it all possible.
The opening ceremony was at Champion® Stadium on Friday evening where they officially “kicked off” the event. The ceremony began with a parade of athletes representing all the participating delegations. Some of the special guests included “Mickey Mouse” and actor Vincent Martella (Greg from “Everybody Hates Chris”) and Disney Channel’s “Phineas and Ferb”. Vincent sang the national anthem.
The raising of the Special Olympics flag was presented by four “Athlete Leaders” from throughout the state. The flag was flown throughout the weekend. In addition, Publix Super Markets presented a check to Special Olympics Florida for over 1 million dollars! This is where the money goes when they ask us to help out Special Olympics when we are shopping. I have a newfound respect for Publix Super Markets. So, the next time you hear the checkout person ask if you wish to donate to Special Olympics……please say yes. Then, Global Messenger, Malcolm Harris-Gowdie, from St. Lucie County lead everyone in the athlete oath…
“Let me win. But, if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
The “Flame of Hope” brought excitement, pride, and beauty upon it’s arrival and was escorted into the stadium by hundreds of law enforcement officers from throughout Florida. The officers came on their motorcycles and in their cruisers with their lights and sirens going, which added to the excitement and beauty of the moment.
The “Flame of Hope” is brought via The Torch Run, which is a six week journey where law enforcement officers from over 300 different agencies ran with the Flame of Hope through towns, large and small, to raise awareness and funds for Special Olympics of Florida. The final torch is then handed off to four Special Olympians who run a relay around the track to the cauldron. The cauldron is lit and the games are declared “officially open”.
As I sat there taking all of this in, I kept wondering why no one had ever told me Special Olympics does all that it does. I left the events feeling that everyone needs to hear more about Special Olympics. I consider myself a pretty involved parent and advocate, but, I had no idea the scope that Special Olympics encompassed.
I wanted to share my perspective as not only a mother and Special Athletes Chaperone, but also, as a member of society. As a mother, the pride from knowing your child is developing new skills, confidence, is learning to be more social and building new friendships is priceless. As a Chaperone, to see the pride, determination, smiles, and happiness and as each athlete gains a new skill, wins the game, or has just received their medal is also priceless. As a member of society because of my new found knowledge, I will no longer be a distant fan, I will do my part to tell others the importance and value of Special Olympics. I will let others know about the volunteer opportunities….. where you receive more than you give. I will make sure I donate when Publix or the “Torch Run” are in my area. I will donate because our donations do make a difference…. a very important and significant difference.
Special Olympics, Healthy Athletes program?
Did you know that six different Healthy Athlete screenings were made available, at no cost, to the athlete or their families? I didn’t. Coaches and volunteers made sure the athletes attended, while volunteer health professionals conducted the screenings. Every health professional volunteer that I spoke with said “they love this event”. One told me this event is her Christmas. She looks forward to it every year. She receives the gifts with each person she helps. And she helps hundreds and hundreds of people each time!!
The six screenings offered are: Opening Eyes (vision screening, including free glasses, if needed), FitFeet (podiatry screening, including fitted orthotics), Special Smiles (dental screening), FunFitness (othropedic screening), Healthy Hearing (audiological screening), and Health Promotion (general fitness, nutrition and health education).
Healthy Athletes began by listening to athletes at events. Special Olympics leaders became aware of the lack of quality health care for people with intellectual disabilities and found it unacceptable. They found that people with intellectual disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk for health issues, and that health care professionals are not trained in or experienced with caring for people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics met the needs of their Athletes with their Healthy Athletes Program.
My “ah-ha” moment came as my daughter was being screened by a doctor at Fit Feet. He advised me that she needed a new pair of orthotics and I was told the ones she was using were no good. This shocked me because we just paid for a brand new pair to be made for her less than a month prior. The Healthy Athletes Doctor gave me 2 new pairs and recommended a brand that would be better suited for my child. My daughter, as well as four members of her soccer team, also received new glasses. These were not the “cheap” or “discount” pair as many might think. These were name brand frames and the eye exam was extensive. These doctors are dedicated, caring, and concerned professionals who choose to donate their time, talent, patience, and heart to this wonderful organization. I am still amazed that I did not know how wonderful Special Olympics was as an organization. I know it now, as do all of you.
Special Olympics has recently initiated the Young Athletes Program.
The Young Athletes Program is an innovative sports play program for children (ages 2-7) with intellectual disabilities and their peers. It is designed to introduce them to the world of sports. The benefits these activities will help the children improve physically, cognitively and socially. This program will also raise awareness of the Special Olympics program and serve as an introduction to the resources and support available within Special Olympics to families, agencies, and schools.
This program is designed to address two specific levels of play. Level 1 includes physical activities focused on developing fundamental motor tracking and eye-hand coordination. Level 2 concentrates on the application of these physical activities through a sports skills activity program and developing skills consistent with Special Olympics sports play. The activities will consist of foundational skills, walking & running, balance, and jumping, trapping & catching, throwing, striking, kicking and advanced skills.
Types of Programs
There are two ways the program may be offered.
Home Program: The Young Athletes Program (YAP) can be offered at home by a family member or friend. These volunteers become play pals on a one-on-one basis with their family member. This would be called a Young Athletes Home Program.
Site Program: The YAP site program may be a school or agency such as a Parks & Recreation Department, Hospital, Daycare, ARC, UCP, YMCA, and Church, school or Camp. The agency agrees to offer the program under the name of Special Olympics Young Athletes Program. Sites must have at least 6 registered Young Athletes to begin a program as they will receive an equipment kit free of charge.
A site program may also be under the direction of a volunteer approved by Special Olympics County or Area Program who finds a donated site to conduct activities. Such sites might include but not limited to a church, community center, YMCA, playground, ARC, UCP, or Housing Development Community Room.
Both types of groups must follow all guidelines for the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program.
Special Olympics allows Athletes to explore new opportunities in Leadership roles with its Athlete Leadership Programs:
I mentioned earlier that the flag raising at the opening ceremonies was presented by four Athlete Leaders. I wanted to share with you the overview of what the Athlete Leadership Program is all about. This program allow athletes to explore opportunities in roles previously considered “non traditional.” It allows athletes to choose how they will participate. Encouraging and providing training to athletes to serve in meaningful leadership roles other than, or in addition to, that of “competitor”. Participation might come in the form of an athlete serving on the Board of Directors or local organizing committee; or it might find an athlete as a spokesperson, team captain, coach or official. Participation in Athlete Leadership Programs may be in addition to or in place of participation in traditional athlete roles.
Athlete Leadership Programs are about breaking down internal barriers that keep athletes from fully enjoying Special Olympics through self-directed, meaningful participation in virtually any aspect of the program.
Below are some Athlete Leadership Initiatives that Special Olympics Programs around the world have already instituted.
- Athletes on the State Board of Directors
- Athletes on Board Committees
- Athletes on County Management Teams
- Athletes on Games Management Teams
- Athletes on Games Evaluation Teams
- Global Messengers (spokespersons)
- Athlete Congress or Input Councils
- Athlete sessions at Leadership Conferences
- Athletes as Coaches
- Athletes as Officials
- Athletes as Volunteers
- Athletes as Donors
- Athletes employed by Special Olympics
- Athletes as contributors to newsletters
Athlete Leadership Program training courses include:
- Global Messenger Course (beginning and graduate course)
- Athlete Leadership Workshop (Governance)
- Athlete Leadership Workshop (Experiential)
- Athlete Congress
- Technology Training 101
- Special Olympics Officials Program for Athletes
- Athlete Boardsmanship
As I mentioned when I began this article Special Olympics is truly a Special organization and much more than just sports.
This is but a condensed overview. There are details within each area that are explained further on their website. We highly encourage you to visit the site and learn as much as you can about this wonderful organization. View online at: www.specialolympics.org
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