As we get ready for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, let’s take a moment to learn about the Special Olympics and the role college students can play in volunteering their time to this worthy cause. The Special Olympics offers summer and winter sports training and athletic competition in a variety of fields for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In addition to athletics and competition, the Special Olympics fosters the joy of participation and a sense of community.
The beginnings of Special Olympics
The establishment of the Special Olympics is credited to Eunice Kennedy Shriver (sister of President John F. Kennedy) who in 1962 began Camp Shriver as a place for children with intellectual disabilities to play. With her continued support and donations by the Kennedy Foundation, the first International Special Olympics Summer Games was held in 1968 in Chicago. The athletes’ oath that first game, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” continues today. Special Olympics events include the usual Olympic-style sports, such as track and field, swimming, skiing and gymnastics, plus other fun activities like bocce, bowling and table tennis.
When discussing the participants in Special Olympics, it’s wise to know that the word “retard” and “retarded” are old-fashioned, derogatory and offensive words. The more acceptable term is “intellectually disabled.” Better words create an atmosphere that is more inclusive and helps change attitudes.
Special Olympics College
College students can volunteer to become part of Special Olympics awareness through the Special Olympics (SO) College, which is a network of chapters on college campuses around the country. One of the newest colleges to join the group is Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.
In “Bates partners with Special Olympics to become SO College,” posted December 2, 2013, organizers explain, “SO College is a nationwide network of highly engaged and motivated college students working to bring inclusion and acceptance to their college campuses. SO College connects students and individuals with intellectual disabilities in their surrounding community. Through sports and leadership opportunities, students build friendships, develop leadership skills and help lead Special Olympics’ movement for acceptance and respect.” Bates’ first SO College event was a sports clinic that the men’s and women’s tennis teams offered for intellectually disabled athletes.
Volunteer for Special Olympics
Each state has a Special Olympics organization and website with information on volunteering. Games are held each winter and summer providing many opportunities for volunteers to help out:
• coach or mentor
• event planning
• action committee
• medical services
• sports clinician
• administration/office/public relations
On-field you can serve as:
• cheer leader for the athletes
Fundraising is always important for the Special Olympics, and it’s easy to get involved. For example, 360 brave and hearty volunteers participated in Willmar, Minnesota’s Polar Plunge charity by jumping into an icy lake to raise $72,000 for Special Olympics. Plungers, spectators, volunteers and donating organizations participated in the event. “Without the excellent community support shown, this event would not be possible,” thanked the Willmar Police Department organizers in “Polar Plunge teams raise $72,000 for Special Olympics,” reported by Anne Polta and posted January 27, 2014 in West Central Tribune.
Benefits of volunteering
Special Olympics Boston College (SOBC) is an official group on the school’s campus, and Boston College Police Department Officer Kevin Christopher is SOBC’s staff advisor. He says his experience with SOBC has been one of the most rewarding things he has done. He has recognized the sincerity and purity of the athletes when they smile and say “thank you” for helping with Special Olympics, a feeling shared by the coaches and volunteers. “Heroes don’t always wear badges,” Christopher said. “Sometimes they wear Double Dragon [BC soccer team] shirts,” reported Katie Cutting in “BC Special Olympics benefits athletes and volunteers alike,” posted in The Heights September 12, 2013.
I volunteered one summer at a Special Olympics in my state. It was very rewarding, and you cannot believe the amount of determination and fun the participants have. In addition to fresh air and exercise, they get a sense of accomplishment and participation, they get to socialize with other athletes and family, and they make lots of new friends. Everyone wins in this situation.
Would you like to be a volunteer for the Special Olympics?