Fully Alive

The following is by Susan Senator, a writer, activist and the mother of a Special Olympics athlete. 

On December 9th I attended Tim Shriver’s book event at the JFK Library in Boston as a guest of Special Olympics Massachusetts. The book Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most, is a combination memoir, biography, and philosophical piece by Special Olympics Chairman Tim, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started Special Olympics. WBUR’s Deborah Becker joined Tim and facilitated the conversation with a masterful subtlety.


Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver with WBUR’s Deborah Becker at the JFK Library.

As expected, Tim talked about the disability movement, and how it originated largely due to his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, who was the first president to invite an intellectually disabled person to the White House, who helped launch several initiatives to research intellectual disability and began the movement to close institutions. Tim also discussed the influences in his life: his mom and his Aunt Rosemary, who had an intellectual disability. The delightful surprise was hearing Tim talk about his own exploration of mysticism and how it all led back to the disability movement. “You have to come to an interior place,” he said, “And in that space, you will become who you are.” That’s his mind-bending way of saying that once you can relax enough into just being yourself, you will finally know what’s important in life. He illustrated this philosophy but asking us, the audience, to imagine a United States where everyone is employed. Everyone, even the intellectually disabled. “Can you imagine that?” he asked, smiling. We didn’t realize at first that he was actually asking us to imagine it. So we did. “Now that you have imagined it, you should try to figure out how to make it so. But first you have to be invited to imagine it.” That imagining is not something most of us are asked to do.

But Special Olympic Athletes are asked to imagine succeeding — perhaps for the first time in their lives. Everywhere else they are “accommodated.” Educated –by mandate, and if you think about it, that implies that you have to do it. Because the law requires it. But in Special Olympics, the Athlete can imagine himself winning, all out, sweaty and panting. The first three words of the Special Olympics oath itself epitomizes this: “Let me win.” (Hey, by the way, do “Real” Olympic Athletes have an oath? Hmmm.)

It is a challenge speaking and writing about Special Olympics and the disability rights movement because everyone already thinks they know what you’re going to say: “Awww, it’s just so doggone special.” This is the basic reaction when you mention Special Olympics. Yes, dammit, of course, but that’s so beside the point. What makes Special O truly special, is that it is one place in life where the “fun is important, and the important is fun,” as Tim put it. “We have a backwards view of Special Olympics,” he said. “We’re trying to prove that our athletes are just like everyone else, that they’re going to fit in.” But the great secret of Special Olympics is that when you come over to their world, the world of the athletes, you get a chance to be just exactly who you are. Everyone involved with Special Olympics gets the chance to be, no matter where they start. You come to an event and you see people you are not used to looking at. Down syndrome, everywhere. People with autism flapping, people dragging walkers. All ages, all shapes. You’re in the minority. You with your big shot Able body. You are not the star there. If you’re a volunteer, a coach, or even the President of Special Olympics, at the games you are wearing a team tee shirt, not a coat and tie. So you relax. If you’re a parent like me, you are not judged. Or pitied. Better yet, your kid is not judged — except by the refs, the timekeepers. This is a sports competition, after all, so some people get the fastest or highest score. Only some get the gold medal. They all want it, but they don’t all get that gold and that in itself is spectacular. There are standards, but somehow, there is also equality.

How is that possible? Sportsmanship. And there is no good sport like a Special Olympian. If I may make a sweeping generalization: they know how it feels to be humbled. Tim, who has met world leaders and shmoozed the best of the best minds, described how Nelson Mandela was a Special Olympics fan, showing up when he wasn’t even expected. And so Tim asked Mandela to “teach” him” some of his incredible life’s lessons.

“I learned what every prisoner knows,” Mandela said. “Humility and simplicity. But you don’t need me to teach you,” he said. “You have the athletes.”

Susan Senator

Another win for Wheaton’s Women’s Basketball

NORTON, Mass. – The Wheaton College women’s basketball team and the Mansfield 7th graders pledge to “End the R Word” story has won the NCAA Division III Special Olympics Spotlight Poll for the month of November after receiving 2,368 votes. More


Reilly receives “Samantha Marcia Stevens Award”

Melissa was surprised and thrilled by receiving the award from Brian and Kathy Stevens

Melissa was surprised and thrilled by receiving the award from Brian and Kathy Stevens.

Melissa Reilly, 28, of Boxborough was recently honored at Gillette Stadium during the Special Olympics Massachusetts State Flag Football Championships with the “Samantha Marcia Stevens Award”. The award is presented to honor excellence in raising positive awareness for the skills and strengths of people with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

Reilly is an accomplished Special Olympics athlete. She has given numerous speeches including the keynote address at the 2009 Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and the 2012 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame. A graduate of Acton-Boxborough High School and a student at Middlesex Community College, Melissa is on staff in the office of State Senator Jamie Eldridge. Melissa has also been inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame in 2010.

The Stevens family (Brian Jr., Josie, Brian, Kathy), Melissa Reilly, Former NFL Player Steve Deiossie, SOMA President and CEO Mary Beth McMahon

The Stevens family (Brian Jr., Josie, Brian, Kathy), Melissa Reilly, Former NFL Player Steve Deiossie, SOMA President and CEO Mary Beth McMahon.

The award was presented by Brian and Kathryn Stevens, advocates from Marlborough, who named the award after their daughter Samantha, an eight-year old with Down syndrome. “If it were not for heroes like Melissa Reilly, my Wife and I’s charitable endeavors may have gone differently,” said Brian Stevens, “she has inspired us to be even better and donate even more to the programs that enhance her, as well as Samantha’s life.”

Previously the Stevens family had presented this award to Lauren Potter, an actress with Down syndrome who stars in the television series, Glee.

A Beacon of Hope

The following is a speech given by Special Olympics Massachusetts athlete and Global Messenger Lauren Hooper to Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. 

“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. This phrase has been resonating through my mind; lending me the strength and the courage to come speak with you all today. In ancient Rome these words were spoken by gladiators to prepare themselves for the arena. In Special Olympics, these words are spoken by the athletes, as the athlete’s oath, to prepare themselves for competition. Hello Everyone. My name is Lauren Hopper. I have been an athlete in the Special Olympics for 13 years. Special Olympics is a worldwide program that serves individuals with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and up. Special Olympics Massachusetts offers training and competition in 27 sports year round. This gives athletes a variety of activities to choose from and an opportunity to stay physically active at all times. Special Olympics has something for every ability level and each year athletes get better in their sport. Longer races, faster times, improved technique, a smoother back hand or jump shot. This instills confidence and allows the athletes to come out of their comfort zone and try new things. However, anyone can become involved even if they don’t have a disability. Unified partners, coaches, officials, volunteers and opportunities to participate in fundraising events, like over the edge, polar plunge and 5K races. This shows that Special Olympics is all inclusive and values giving equal respect to everyone.

Special Olympics athletes, left to right, Gregg Gallant, Lauren Hopper and Matt Millett.

Special Olympics athletes, left to right, Gregg Gallant, Lauren Hopper and Matt Millett.

The ocean spray diversity vision is to, “Create an inclusive culture in which individual perspectives are valued and differences leveraged for greater opportunities”. Special Olympics was founded with that same vision and through dedication and resourcefulness that vision has been made a reality. The Ocean Spray company website states, “We at Ocean Spray continue to pride ourselves on the tradition of innovation and resourcefulness.” Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver during a time where people with intellectual disabilities were not widely accepted by their community. Since then Special Olympics has introduced and implemented a number of innovative concepts. These include unified sports, where athletes with intellectual disabilities play on the same team alongside athletes without disabilities and the R-Word campaign. Ocean Spray was started by 3 cranberry growers who shared a love of cranberries and wanted to create unique products that others could enjoy. Special Olympics was started as a day camp by a family who shared the love they had for their disabled sister and wanted others to be able experience that unique love. With these humble beginnings Ocean Spray and Special Olympics have both grown and paved the way for new ideas. Just imagine what they could accomplish working together. I am humbled by how much the employees here at Ocean Spray have already taken part in this incredible organization. Thank you all so much. From the bottom of my heart I truly appreciate everything you have done for us athletes.

As Special Olympics is a non-profit organization, it relies heavily on its volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. The generous volunteers and donors are the backbone of this organization, for without them, Special Olympics would not be able to offer all the incredible things they do for their athletes. Being a volunteer isn’t just about donating time, money or equipment, it’s so much more. It will bring a smile to your face long after the event is over.

When my parents chose to sign me up for Special Olympics, I was 10 years old. At that point I was just beginning to have struggles in mainstream life. Special Olympics gave me a safe haven; somewhere I could be myself without fear ridicule. Because of how I looked and how I acted, I rarely found that elsewhere. I acquired a sense of belonging that I had never felt anywhere else. I found people who could look past my exterior and see the real me. Because of my disability I was told that I would never become a functioning member of society. Special Olympics gave me hope. The practices showed me how to follow through with my commitments. The competitions taught me to believe in and prove to myself that I can succeed. Losing a race taught me how to deal with disappointment but to be content with the loss knowing I had given it my very best. Having the option to compete in multiple sports year-round has allowed me to become comfortable in trying new things. I have developed confidence and independence by staying overnight with my team during state tournaments. Helping the younger athletes has given me leadership skills. Inadvertently, Special Olympics has prepared me for life. And, throughout my life, Special Olympics has been a beacon of hope. At times, I have felt like a ship stuck in a storm at sea. All the cargo piled up inside, weighing me down. The angry waves crashing over me. The dark night and storm clouds closing in on all sides. And just when I am on the verge of sinking, a light shines in the distance. As that light grows brighter I stop trying to fight my way through the dark stormy sea and instead allow the light to help and guide me to where I want to be. For if I am a ship lost in a storm at sea then Special Olympics is my lighthouse. When my parents signed me up for Special Olympics they were thinking that it would allow me to continue playing sports; something that I love to do. What they didn’t realize, was that in doing so they were ensuring my future. Special Olympics not only saved my life but it presented me with the ability to live that life fully and to my potential.

Every Special Olympics athlete is unique and each of us gets something different out of being part of this organization. For example. There is a boy on my swim team who when he first joined Special Olympics was in foster care. Because of trauma in his past he was terrified of water. His foster family had a pool and the mother wanted him to be able to swim in case he fell in by accident. She signed him up for Special Olympics because he refused to take swim lessons. The first few practices he would not even go near the water but he still kept coming back every week. The next practice he sat on the pools edge with a life jacket. The practice after that he stood in the shallow end with a coach holding on to him. Every practice there was progression. And when it came time for competition he was able to swim the whole length of the pool by himself. Special Olympics helped him to triumph over his severe trauma.

When I was in middle school, one of my teammates faced constant bullying at school making him miserable. One day I witnessed the bullying and being brave in the attempt, I stood up for him. A few weeks later his mom called mine in tears, saying how much happier he was and that he was starting to make friends. This boy was accepted into Harvard University and is currently attending Clark University for his masters in education. Special Olympics gave him courage, which helped him to rediscover his love of school.

Another one of my teammates is nonverbal and confined to a wheelchair. Despite that her mind is very bright. When she first joined Special Olympics she had a hard time letting her personality shine through. Now, even though she cannot speak and has very little control over her movement she can have an entire conversation just using her personality. For example at a recent unified event she was joking on one of our coaches. Her personality was so contagious that the entire room got in on the conversation, got in on the joke, which of course ended in laughs from everyone. Special Olympics helped her to find a way to express herself.

One of my teammates has a son who was born with a rare genetic disorder. As a young mom with a disability herself she was overwhelmed with the hospitalizations, surgery, diet and supervision her son constantly needed. 2/12 years later she now feels confident in her abilities as a mom. The other athlete’s parents were a wealth of knowledge for her and she even found a new friend; an athlete from a different team who has the same disorder as her son. Special Olympics helped her to become more confident in her ability as a mother and more hopeful for her sons future.

As these examples show you, Special Olympics offers so much more than simply sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities. A 2008 Cone Cooperate Citizenship study found that 85% of Americans have a more positive image of a product or company when it supports a cause that they care about. Special Olympics has well over 500,000 athletes in North America alone and each of those athletes has family and friends who have seen firsthand the positive impact Special Olympics has had. Special Olympics is a cause that people care about. The joy that Special Olympics bestows upon those involved is contagious. I chose Special Olympics many years ago and I am standing before you today to tell you That Special Olympics Massachusetts is the right choice. Choose to improve the future. Choose to instill joy. Choose Special Olympics Massachusetts.

Thank you.

Special Olympics Team USA training camp

By Amanda Church

It is hard to put into words how much fun all the Special Olympics athletes had at training camp in Indianapolis, Indiana. Getting great tips from World Games coaches, giving us things to think about as we move forward training for next summer’s 2015 Special Olympics World Games in LA. We also got the opportunity to see a Pacer’s Scrimmage, and take a group photo of all the Team USA Members that will be competing in all the sports at World Games in 2015.


Special Olympics Massachusetts athlete Amanda Church trains for swimming in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

We got a surprise as well from Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who not only got in a picture with us, but also had a few nice words of encouragement to Special Olympics Team USA!

The team also had the opportunity to hear from Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger Andrew Peterson, a young man of 21, that was born with an intellectual disability, because his mom drank while she was pregnant with him. This young man grew up in foster care, later was adopted and at age 13 and got involved in Special Olympics.

He is a Special Olympics track and field athlete from Indiana and is one of the well known Global Messengers in the state of Indiana and beyond. He is so inspiring and even though he slowly spoke one word at a time, he was so inspiring to not just the USA athletes that will be competing at World Games, but to all the staff, including coaches, volunteers and sports management staff.

I had a blast, It was a awesome experience and I learned a lot. I also plan to take all the advice and all the tips that each person I met gave me, whether it was at the pool practicing, or just talking at meal time, or at Team USA meetings.  In closing, best wishes to the Massachusetts athletes that will be representing Team USA, and to all the rest of the USA! USA! USA! USA!

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Michael Cappello – Hall of Fame – Coach

Mike Cappello is an adaptive physical education teacher at the Dartmouth Public Schools and a Special Olympics Massachusetts coach. Twenty three years ago, he started a Special Olympics track and field team. As his students graduated, he also started a “graduates” program. Three years ago, the Dartmouth program added flag football and basketball teams, and Cappello has recruited and mentored new coaches for both of these programs.

Cappello organizes and manages the annual Dartmouth School Day Games each May, where students from Dartmouth, New Bedford, Fall River, and Westport participate in a track and field meet. What started as a meet with roughly 50 Dartmouth students has turned into an event for over 200 students across four different communities.

On October 2nd, Cappello, along with a class of athletes, coaches, volunteers, families and sponsors, will be recognized at the 2014 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, MA.


Recently, Cappello expanded his roster to start a Unified track program in Dartmouth. Of this new challenge, Mike said, “I’ve never seen my athletes so excited about a competition. With an individual sport like track and field, this taught them the importance of teamwork, something they love and depend on, not only in sports, but in the classroom, at home and in the community”.

Last spring, Dartmouth parents nominated Cappello for the “Live with Kelly and Michael Teacher of the Year” contest. Mike beat out thousands of other teachers to be in the Top 15 semi-finalist category. As part of the nomination, a parent told Kelly and Michael that, “He’s built the confidence of my daughter, and he’s done that for many kids over many years. He’s got the tough love, but he’s got a way about him that he can get kids to do what they need to do without becoming someone less. It comes naturally to him, he just does it because it’s the right thing to do”.



Stucchi Family – Hall of Fame

The Stucchi Family have been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts through the Shrewsbury program for 15 years. Son Peter plays on the basketball, soccer and bocce teams as an athlete. His sister Amy and her husband Adam volunteer their time as Unified partners in basketball and fundraise for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Mother and father Debbie and Tim are bocce Unified partners, and Tim is a coach and official for basketball. They have also previously been involved with Special Olympics Colorado. Baby Summer is a bit young, but the family has big plans for her as well.

On October 2nd, the Stucchi family, along with a class of athletes, coaches, volunteers, families and sponsors, will be recognized at the 2014 Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough, MA.stucchi_family“We started primarily with Peter participating and then Debbie and I got involved as [Unified] partners and then his sister Amy got involved,” said father Tim. “And then we went from partnering to coaching and officiating a little bit, and then Peter was asked to do the global messaging, and then after that both Amy and Adam got involved in fundraising and as partners.”

“Someday Summer will be a partner,” said Debbie of her granddaughter. “She’ll be Peter’s bocce partner.”