Marc Segerman – Hall of Fame – Athlete

Hyannis native Marc Segerman has been an athlete with Special Olympics Massachusetts for over 20 years. He’s competed in the Special Olympics National (USA) games, and on the state level in a host of sports. He considers skiing and tennis his favorites.

This October 2nd, Segerman 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.

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“It’s been a challenge, it feels good to play a sport,” said Segerman, while also noting that his long involvement in Special Olympics has not been without its perks. “I’ve met many celebrities in Special Olympics, I was able to rub shoulders with them at different events.” One such instance was an opportunity Segerman had to meet the late founder of the organization, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“Been a really great ride and I hope to keep the ride going. I’m 52 and hopefully when I’m 60 I’ll still be playing golf with Special Olympics. I’m looking forward to doing Special Olympics for many more years to come.”

To Segerman, age is just a number, but one thing moving forward will certainly change for him. The next time he hits the slopes or takes to the tennis court, he’ll be doing it as a Hall-of-Famer.

Darren Fleurent – Hall of Fame – Coach

Darren Fleurent has been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts as a head coach and Unified partner for 15 years. He first became involved as a Unified partner in softball, because of his brother, who is an athlete. Fleurent has coached flag football, basketball and volleyball over the years and has been instrumental in recruiting Unified partners, athletes and coaches for these teams. This October 2nd, Fleurent 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.

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Fleurent was aided in the leap from Unified partner to coach by mentors who had been coaching for years before in the New Bedford program — “People to bounce ideas off of and ask questions if needed.” As the years went by and he gained more experience, Fleurent would find himself one of those people. A mentor.

“It’s a surprise, I did not expect it,” said Fleurent on being inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame. “Just to be recognized was enough for me … It’s quite an honor.”

From Special Olympics fan to Unified partner, coach and now hall-of-famer, Fleurent has gained a great appreciation for the power of sports. “From an athletic standpoint, it’s trying to do your best and go for the gold and win, but you make friends and have fun and you realize that sports are more than about the competition.”

James DiGianvittorio – Hall of Fame – LETR

James DiGianvittorio is the Middleton police chief and co-director of the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) program. He represented LETR at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Greece. Jim also created the “Cruiser Convoy” fundraising event, where over a hundred law enforcement personnel converge on the Special Olympics Massachusetts state summer games at Harvard Athletic Complex to greet and award athletes with medals. This October 2nd, DiGianvittorio 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.

Digivantorio_hofDiGianvittorio has been a police officer for 30 years, working up the ranks from patrolman, detective, prosecutor, sergeant, captain, and eight years ago becoming chief.

“My first year as chief I received a visit from a Special Olympics associate Lauren Fredette, she was working over in the Danvers office. We sat down, within about a half-hour we had a couple events already organized and we started from there,” said DiGianvittorio. “Eight years later we’ve raised a lot of money, we’ve raised a lot of awareness.”

There was a clear need in the beginning to bolster the LETR program in the North Shore of Massachusetts according to Digivantorio. Under his leadership, the program in that area began to grow and thrive. Supporting Special Olympics Massachusetts has been a rewarding experience for DiGianvittorio in it’s own right. “I’ve been able to learn a lot through Special Olympics, foster new relationships, and I’ve done some things in my lifetime that I thought I’d never be able to do.”

In 2011 he ran in the torch relay with LETR in Greece, on the way to Special Olympics World Games. “It’s still one of the highlights of my careers,” said DiGianvittorio.

As co-director of the the Massachusetts LETR program, DiGianvittorio acknowledges the programs successes, but says there’s more to be done, as he lists off LETR fundraising events in a calm pragmatic manner. “We’ve pulled trains, we’ve pulled trucks, duck boats, jumped in the ocean, we’ve worked in restaurants raising money. We do it for all the athletes and I hope we do it for a lot more years to come.”

Humbled and proud

Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified partner Kim Bauser writes about competing with GMPI (Greater Marlboro Programs, Inc.) Unified track and field. 

“We’re going to need you to run a time trial for the 400 meter.” This was about fifteen minutes into my first practice, and my first direct experience with Special Olympics ever. I was still taking in the warm welcome and warm-up stretches. And, to be honest, I was already overwhelmed and more than a little nervous, with more than a decade between me and the last time I’d tried to run a quarter-mile “fast.”

I’d thought I was signing up to be a running buddy, or a jog-along cheerleader for the athletes, whom I would gladly encourage, positive and smiling all the way, feeling great about myself for this good thing I was doing. Instead, I was the athlete, and I was trying not to dry heave as I all but crawled across the finish line. My fellow athletes were the ones smiling and cheering me on. Humbling barely begins to describe. (And that was before I tried to throw the turbo javelin.)

I had joined the GMPI track team as a Special Olympics Unified partner. Invited by a friend, I had no prior training or qualifications, and I clearly had little idea what I was getting myself into or the impact it would have on me. My humbling experience, as it turned out, had barely begun.

Unified partner Kim Bauser, left, with GMPI athlete Erin Delahunty.

As we gathered for the state competition in June, I was humbled by the coaches and volunteers who give and have given of their time and energy selflessly, some for years and even decades. I was humbled by the caretakers, families and other loved ones who were there and, in many cases, are always there, to accompany and applaud their children, siblings or friends. These individuals’ commitment to their athletes, families and communities certainly put my lap or two around the track to shame.

But even more than any of those, I was humbled by my fellow athletes, my new friends. Having been instantly welcomed into the sisterhood of several of the women on the team, I got to run and cheer alongside them and all our athletes. They encouraged our teammates, as well as friends from other teams. They celebrated more than a few wins, but congratulated every effort with the same sincerity and enthusiasm. Our athletes loved competing. Two of the women even ran an extra “demonstration” mile — just for fun! As I struggled through my events, they hollered and applauded and spoke to me the very pep talks I had expected to speak to them. They told me to do my best and “be brave in the attempt,” and modeled the same. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a track meet!

Humbled as I was, I was an athlete in Special Olympics. And I have never been more proud to be a part of a team.

The heart of an athlete

By John Cappiello 

Earlier this summer I was lucky enough to accompany the Special Olympics Massachusetts athletics team to the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey. This is the second time I’ve been able to attend this event, the first time being in 2010 in Lincoln Nebraska. During both games I got to experience so many moments I will never forget. My fellow coaches and I were able to work with so many amazing athletes during these events and each one of them have something special to offer. One of the athletes I coached this year was a young man named ‎Jared Baillargeon. We’re lucky here in Massachusetts. We’ve been able to watch some tough athletes come through this state. Tom Brady, Cam Neely, Micky Ward… All tough as can be, but if you ask me, no list of “tough athletes” is complete until you add Jared. Let me tell you why.

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Jared Baillargeon at USA Games training camp at The Yawkey Sports Training Center in Marlborough.

In November 2013 I met Jared for the first time. It was easy to see that he was excited for the opportunity to represent Massachusetts at the games and eager to get going. So it was a bit of a shock when he approached our head coach Jenn Walsh and myself and told us he needed to miss some practice time. In February he was going in for surgery… open heart surgery.

Time frame check. We were leaving for USA games in June and he was having surgery on his heart in February. I will admit, I wondered if he really would be able to make it. I’ve had family members that have had various heart surgeries and I saw how hard it was for them to come back. Still, we all cheered for Jared and hoped he would be able to join us in New Jersey.

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Jared with fellow athlete Daniel Lundin and coach Jenn Walsh at the Opening Ceremony of the 2014 USA Games.

In late April, Team Massachusetts all got together for “National Games Weekend” in Marlborough. This is our chance to have all our teams, athletes, coaches and staff together. I personally love these two days. It does exactly what it’s supposed to. It builds an already existing camaraderie into something even stronger. We really become family at this event. Not just with our individual team but with everyone going to represent Massachusetts. There was no greater image that weekend than seeing Jared front and center. Surgery was behind him, he was looking and feeling good and he was ready to work hard. I was amazed. Not just because he seemed physically ready, but more importantly he was mentally prepared. He was so upbeat and happy to be there you would have been hard pressed to convince someone he just had major surgery. His attitude and his humor infected everyone he met and we all were thrilled that he was going to make it to New Jersey with us.

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Jared Baillargeon before his race at the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey.

So we were off in June to the USA Games and they did not disappoint. Everyone representing Special Olympics Massachusetts did us proud. As for Jared, we all waited for his first attempt at a medal. I honestly believe that the athletes don’t have to win medals to consider a trip like this a success. Perhaps it sounds cliché, but getting there, competing and giving all they have, is enough so they can say “I succeeded”.

All Jared had to do was get out there and compete, but how cool would it be for this guy to medal after his surgery? Very cool. And everyone watching was thinking it. As we waited for his 100-meter dash, everyone from his family, coaches and fellow athletes were aware of what Jared had to go through to get to this moment. I know we all were cheering a little harder for him. When that gun went off Jared took off with such determination and never let up, not until he crossed the finish line, securing himself a silver medal.

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Jared Baillargeon competing in track & field at the 2014 USA Games in New Jersey.

And the crowd goes wild! He did it and we all couldn’t have been happier. I got to see Jared at staging as he waited to receive that silver medal. I almost couldn’t find the words to let him know how proud I was of him and how proud I was to say I was his coach. Oh, but Jared wasn’t finished. He competed in three more events and medaled in all three, including a gold medal in mini-javelin. In a matter of months I watched a young guy have surgery on his heart, only to show everyone he had more heart and was tougher than any big name athlete out there.

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Jared gets congratulated by coach John Cappiello after taking silver in track at the 2014 USA Games.

Jared recently Facebooked me to make sure I knew that one of the guys from our athletics team made it to World Games. That’s Jared. Just a good guy. Yes, I’m happy to be able to say I was his coach, but what’s even better is that I can call him my friend.

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A celebration of the human spirit

By Tyler Lagasse

My week in New Jersey was so big, so busy, and so mesmerizing that it was more than just a golf tournament for me, it was an experience that will stay with me forever. On Saturday, June 14th, I arrived at the College of New Jersey where my delegation and I would call home for a week. On Sunday, June 15th, the state of New Jersey opened its arms to the 3,000-strong athletes with a stunning Opening Ceremony taking place at the Prudential Center in Newark. Throughout the week, every athlete — myself included — set out to be brave in their attempts. They did more than that. They showed America and the world what the spirit of Special Olympics is made of.

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For three straight days, I represented Massachusetts on the golf course along with five athletes and Unified partners that took part in the golfing competition at Mercer Oaks golf course. Round-one was on a Monday, and my first two holes of the 54-hole Level V tournament were pars. Then for the next five holes I could not do any better than a bogey. But out of this slump came four straight pars. My shot of the day came on the par-3, 16th hole where I had this 30-foot putt just to save par. My ball appeared to go from right to left and it went in the hole for my 5th par in six holes. I would make my last par on the next hole, the par-4, 17th. I finished the day with four bogey holes in a row and my score for the 1st round was 84.

The 2nd and 3rd rounds saw me paired up with South Carolina’s Scott Rohrer, who shot a 76 in his first round. With a camera crew following both of us that Tuesday, the beginning of my 2nd round was identical to my 1st as I reeled in back-to-back pars. After two more bogies I saved par from 15 feet on the par-3, 5th. The 6th was the most difficult stroke hole and I hit two brilliant shots with the driver and 5-iron on my way to the green where I made par. I was an approach shot away from a possible birdie on the 7th, but that hole ended with a double bogey for me. I missed a putt for birdie from five feet out on the par-3, 8th and took a par. A bogey on 9 gave me a score of 41 on the front nine.

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I began the back nine with three straight bogies. But I followed that up with three straight pars. After a bogey on 16, I went to the 17th and launched a drive with a 3-wood that nearly ended up in Lake Mercer. My 2nd shot found the green and I had a chance at birdie. My putt was uphill but I went for the hole and the ball went in it. This would prove to be my only birdie of the games. A bogey on the last hole would give me a score of 40 on the back nine and a total of 81 for the 2nd round. Scott Rohrer meanwhile shot a 78 as he was on his way towards his second gold medal.

The 3rd and final round was more or less anticlimactic as Scott continued to play the game that gave him scores in the 70’s as I continued to struggle to play for par. I had my worst round of the three-day tournament as I finished with an 88 in the 3rd round. But in the end I was good enough to receive a silver medal in my second appearance in the Special Olympics USA Games. Above all, this tournament and these games was about overcoming immeasurable odds, facing incredible challenges, and breaking down perceptions and myths of people living with disabilities one brick at a time. Inevitably the games had to come to a close, and on Friday, June 20th the closing ceremony in Trenton paid tribute to the hard working men and women that made the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games a memorable one. From beginning to end, it was more than a sporting event, it was a celebration of the human spirit.

Tyler Lagasse, left, and Scott Rohrer receiving silver and gold respectively.

Tyler Lagasse, left, and Scott Rohrer receiving silver and gold respectively.

To conclude this story, let me say that I am lucky to have taken part in two national games for Special Olympics. When I came to Nebraska in 2010, I saw a legion of special people united in their cause for acceptance. In New Jersey in 2014, I witnessed it again. People from all 50 states, plus D.C., came together to seek an era where they are not viewed by their disabilities but by their courage, determination, and bravery against serious obstacles. In the first round, I witnessed firsthand my opponent from Tennessee go down in pain and require medical attention, but he came back to complete the hole and finish the tournament. Before my own eyes, I saw heart, I saw soul, and I saw guts. You’ll never know how special these events are until you come see them in person because there is nothing like it. The opening and closing ceremonies just make you stop and be overcome with such passion and make you wonder why can’t it be like this in the professional level of all sports? For me, these games served as a reminder that goodness, goodwill, and good sportsmanship exist.

The 2014 Special Olympics USA Games were more than just about sports, it was a life-changer for everyone involved, including me, because it’s allowed me to feel proud of what I have done and it’s given me the feeling of joy in being a part of something special. The memories I take with me cannot be summed up mathematically, they can only be described and passed down to future generations so that they will enjoy the same moments I have experienced. In the end, all of those who experienced it all for one week in New Jersey became winners.

Growing Young Athletes

Over the past few months nearly 1,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 2 and 7 have participated in Special Olympics Massachusetts’ Young Athletes™ events throughout the state.  If you’re not familiar with the Young Athletes program, it’s a developmentally appropriate play program for children with intellectual disabilities that is designed to foster physical, cognitive and social development. IMG_7613-X3 We love being able to introduce the importance of sports programming to this younger age group and allow them one of their first opportunities to participate in physical activity and couldn’t do it without community partners who feel the same way. This year we have been extremely proud to partner with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to bring Young Athletes to life. IMG_7813-X3 “We are pleased to be part of the Young Athletes program,” said Jeff Bellows, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Helping young people learn the importance of being active and the value of a healthy lifestyle is critical to creating a more vibrant community for everyone. That is why we are proud to partner with Special Olympics to support this important programming across the commonwealth.” The growth of the Special Olympics Massachusetts Young Athletes program over the last few years has been tremendous and we can’t wait to watch the impact it continues to make throughout the community as we move forward.