“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
This is the oath of Special Olympics and all its athletes. Since its first games in 1968 in Chicago, these competitions have grown to serve more than one million athletes in over 150 countries, according to the Special Olympics Web site.
Over one million volunteers organize and run local programs, including the Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) this past weekend at Villanova University.
More than 1200 athletes competed under the guidance of 200 coaches with the assistance of over 2000 volunteers.
The 14th annual SOPA event at Villanova is “the largest student-run Special Olympics in the country,” according to Michelle Liberatore, senior marketing major at Villanova and volleyball chair.
The responsibilities lie completely in the hands of the students with little supervision from the faculty.
A variety of sports were played, including bocce, long distance running/walking, power lifting, roller skating, soccer and volleyball.
All of the athletes, ranging from eight-years-old to 55-years-old and all skill levels, competed with pride and ambitiousness.
These were not your average games, though.
The goal wasn’t to win, but to play their best, become physically fit and productive, and become respected members of society.
It wasn’t about scoring the goal or spiking the ball; it was about becoming a better person despite any mental or physical challenges.
One mother of an athlete spoke of how her 16-year-old daughter’s self-esteem was boosted and her independence increased tenfold. “Special Olympics helps build her life skills…how to survive on her own.”
These are all part of the mission of Special Olympics.
The athletes are not the only ones who get anything out of these games.
The thousands of volunteers anticipated every high five and hug they got in congratulations.
Several Temple students, including Danielle Kaiser, Andrea Pawlowski, and Rose Carter, volunteered their weekend because they couldn’t wait to see the excitement on the athletes’ faces.
Kaiser volunteered last year and returned for more because she likes the idea of making someone’s day.
“Just knowing that I can make a difference, even in just one person’s life, helps me feel like a better person, like I’ve contributed to society in some way,” she said.
Hopefully others will adopt this attitude and feel encouraged to volunteer their time.
After all the events were over, every athlete received a medal, even if he or she didn’t win.
The point was to keep the athletes encouraged and excited about participating in Special Olympics.
The pride that they felt beamed through as fans cheered and many hugs were given.
Closing ceremonies were held in the Pavilion at Villanova with all the athletes down front and the huge crowd of spectators behind, including families, students, and other volunteers.
It was an extremely emotional moment for all as they watched a highlights video.
Liberatore, the volleyball chair, said she always cries when she sees that video.
“I just feel like all this work is really for a bigger purpose, beyond my control, which is really great. These athletes and all the people that help out make an unbelievable difference.”
Holly Logan can be reached at Hlogan@temple.edu