On Saturday, May 9, the Special Olympics will come to the track at Victory Field (Myrtle Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard) where a few hundred local athletes will take part in the Spring Games. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and having attended this event last year I can safely say that you will find this to be a rewarding and uplifting experience.
The Special Olympics conducts training and hosts events for nearly five million athletes with special needs in over 170 countries around the world.
Locally here in New York, the Special Olympics have been hosting games for over 60 years and currently boast a roster of 65,000 athletes statewide, with over 40,000 of them from the five boroughs. It is a year-round process, with several events each year supported by lots of preparation and training.
“Each of our athletes trains within their own training club and they will train for about six to eight weeks prior to participating in the spring or summer games,” says Amy Monihan, associate director of Development with Special Olympics New York. “They go out on a weekly basis and they train for sporting events such as track and field, softball throw, and adapted sports.”
I became aware of the Special Olympics at Victory Field last year while out for a walk and, while enjoying a few races on the track, I spotted a resident from the community named Anthony coaching the athletes.
It turned out that he had been a part of the Special Olympics here in New York as a volunteer and a coach for many years. Watching Anthony and all the other volunteers that day, it became very clear that they loved being part of this.
“We usually have about 125 volunteers,” Monihan told me. “But we could always use more. Our volunteers help out with anything from registering the teams, to escorting our athletes to make sure they get to where they are supposed to be while competing.”
If you are interested in volunteering, please visit specialolympicsny.org and sign up. But even if you cannot make the commitment to volunteer, please consider taking the time to show up and take part by cheering on the athletes.
“It’s so encouraging for our athletes to see people to come out and support them,” Monihan said. “They work so hard in preparation for this.”
If you know of any persons with special needs who you think would like to become part of the Special Olympics family, simply call their city office at (212) 661-3963. You will be able to speak with a program specialist who will walk you through all the steps to get your athlete involved.
The program specialist will help you get the medical consent form and connect you with a training coach and a training club right here in Queens. There is no age limit and they have many athletes who have grown with the program, some of them having been with the Special Olympics for nearly 50 years.
Special Olympics Regional Director Bill Tawpash can attest to the long relationships athletes have with the organization.
“My cousin grew up with cerebral palsy and every year we would train with him,” he said. “For many years, it was something he looked forward to months in advance. It was a very big part of his world.”
If you attend the games on May 9, you will see just how important this event is to all the athletes. But you will also see why they are called the “Special” Olympics. Though the athletes are mighty competitive with each other during the races, they are all tremendously supportive of one another throughout the day.
We could all learn a lot from these Special Olympians.