Earlier this month, over 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean came together in Orlando, Florida, to compete in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. The Special Olympics has long been a celebrated sporting event, dedicated to “promoting respect, inclusion, and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities” since 1968.¹
Performance Health has been a supporter of the Special Olympics for many years, with employees across the nation volunteering at many of the events. As the games wrapped up mid-June this year, we spoke with a few team members who have helped with the Special Olympics in the past and who felt particularly impacted by their experience.
Our first team member is Meredith T., a Regional Sales Manager for Performance Heath. While she’s now in sales, her background is in athletic training. Meredith used her athletic training skills when she volunteered for the Winter Games during her undergraduate and graduate studies in Pennsylvania.
“One of my favorite things at the time was just being able to have an opportunity to provide healthcare to a different athlete population,” she said.
While she had the opportunity to volunteer through school, Meredith was particularly encouraged by one of her professors who had been a medical liaison for both Special Olympics Team USA and Team Pennsylvania. Her stories of travelling with those teams inspired Meredith to pursue the volunteer opportunity and experience it for herself.
During her experience, Meredith was especially impacted by the athletes’ attitudes throughout the games.
“To find that and see that joy, it really reminded me that’s how we all should be. We have these opportunities, and we need to take advantage of them regardless of the situation,” Meredith said.
Another Performance Health team member who has helped with Special Olympics in the past is Doug R., the Leader of Segment Marketing. His introduction to the volunteer experience began with his wife, who had volunteered for years in the Special Olympics. Since he always went to events with her, he decided to join her in coaching softball.
"It’s everything you get in coaching – it’s fun, stressful, rewarding, and you find yourself being part of a team,” he said.
Doug specifically appreciated all the different ways he learned to communicate, whether through emotions, gestures, or by example. To reach beyond verbal communication in order to engage and encourage the athletes was a new experience that he’s appreciated ever since.
And, like Meredith, Doug was particularly struck by the joy exhibited by the athletes.
“It’s just true joy and sportsmanship that you get to witness and be a part of, and that translates into their lives in general,” Doug said.
The enthusiasm made for a fun, encouraging atmosphere that Doug described as “the way sports should be.” Being able to share the joy with the athletes has given Doug a new appreciation and understanding of sportsmanship. It has also led him to encourage others to volunteer with the Special Olympics if given the chance.
“You can’t do it wrong,” Doug said. “Anything you do is going to be helpful. It’s non-intimidating and non-judgmental.”
Deb H., the Brand and Print Senior Specialist for Performance Health, has had the opportunity to support the Special Olympics in a few different contexts. In the past, Deb has helped run Special Olympics fundraising campaigns with Performance Health. In 2019, she was the co-manager for an internal campaign called Superheroes for Special Olympics, which helped raise over $14,000 to donate to the Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes program.
Deb’s direct volunteer experiences with Special Olympics were in Denver, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington, where she volunteered in games management. Her responsibilities included helping the staff run the games, keeping score, and assigning other volunteers to work certain events.
As a marathon coach in her free time, Deb loved interacting with athletes in another kind of sporting environment and witnessing the pure joy coming from the players. She said the energy at the Special Olympics was contagious.
“If anyone has the time and energy to do something like the Special Olympics, you get so much out of it. You give a little time, and you get much more out of it than you put into it,” Deb said.
Reflecting on their experiences, Meredith, Doug, and Deb all had two common takeaways. The first was how impacted they were by the pure joy of every athlete that competed at the Special Olympics. While many athletes can get caught up in the score or their own performance, the athletes at the Special Olympics simply loved playing the game. Meredith, Doug, and Deb all felt they walked away with a better understanding of what true sportsmanship looks like.
Secondly, all three highly encourage others to volunteer with the Special Olympics, even if it’s only once. They all found their volunteer experiences to be incredibly rewarding, feeling the athletes impacted them more than they impacted the athletes.
“It really is a life-changing experience,” Meredith said.
See all the ways you can serve with Special Olympics!
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