Special Olympics: Full Circle

Kate with her son and daughter.

Kate with her son and daughter.

Kate Dyer has been involved with Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) since 1997, first as a coach and Unified Partner, and now as a parent to both a Unified Partner and an athlete. This July, Kate Dyer will add a new title to her lengthy SOMA resume, Fundraiser, as she goes Over the Edge in support of the organization to which she is so deeply connected. SOMA sat down with Kate to discuss her history with the sports organization, her decision to fundraise, and the value in raising her children within the organization.

SOMA: Tell me a little about your history with Special Olympics – how did you first get involved?

Kate: When I originally volunteered to coach Special Olympics, I was a senior in college, majoring in Elementary Education, and volunteering at a clinic for children with special needs. I had a passion for working with people and really enjoyed playing sports. I was assigned to be an assistant coach for a Special Olympics adult basketball team in New Bedford.

SOMA: What was it like coaching the athletes?

Kate: I left the first practice with sore cheeks from smiling so much, and with a determination to be the best coach I could be. It was then that I knew I would get as much out of volunteering as the athletes would get from me. The athletes gain independence, a sense of accomplishment, friendship with peers, and confidence in themselves. As a Coach for volleyball, soccer and basketball, I gain an appreciation for each of my athletes’ struggles, patience, and skill at organizing a team of many differing abilities. As a Unified Partner for soccer, softball, and volleyball, I developed more physical fitness, experienced joy in watching the athletes succeed, and gained an understanding for the importance of community.

SOMA: That’s when you met your husband.

Kate: Within a few years of coaching, I fell in love with Jon, the gentleman Special Olympics originally paired me to coach with.

SOMA: And your children, they’re involved with Special Olympics as well?

Kate: Our two children have attended Special Olympics events since they were infants. Observing and participating in practice, they have gained an early understanding of people with different abilities, and have had opportunities to develop tolerance, acceptance, and friendship with families of athletes.

SOMA: Over the years, your connection to Special Olympics has evolved.

Kate: I am no longer just a coach, I am also a parent of an athlete: our son, Jordan. From this, I have gained friendships with other families of children with similar struggles, and found an organization that fits Jordan’s needs. The joy I experience watching him score a goal or basket, seeing him celebrate with his team…

SOMA: Your 12-year-old daughter, Jordan’s sister Sariah, is a Unified Partner. What is that like for her, growing up so close to the organization?

Kate: As a Unified Partner and volunteer, Sariah gains a better understanding of her brother. She helps Jordan feel successful at sports, and develops compassion for the people around her. She gains leadership skills while helping train the athlete and guide them through drills. My journey with Special Olympics has really come full circle. We’re a community, we all gain from each other.

SOMA: Coach, volunteer, Unified Partner, parent of an athlete. You and your family have held many titles over the years, and you’re adding one more to that list this summer: Fundraiser. Tell me about your decision to go Over the Edge.

Kate: I heard about Over the Edge at a Special Olympics coach’s meeting a couple years ago. I did not immediately participate because I struggle with asking people to donate money. This year I decided to give it a try because Special Olympics means so much to my family and the many families I know. I also enjoy sports, and thought rappelling down a 22-story building sounded like an incredibly memorable experience.

SOMA: Sariah is also going Over the Edge this year.

Kate: When Sariah learned about the event, she immediately wanted to participate. She loves Special Olympics: interacting with the athletes, sharing memorable times with the other volunteers, and being involved in such an important program. My husband and I were hesitant at first – Sariah is only 12 – but ultimately, I think it will be a strong bonding moment for mother and daughter.

SOMA: Both you and Sariah reached the fundraising minimum to participate ($1,000) within a few weeks of registering for the event. For first time fundraisers, that is certainly impressive. Tell me about your fundraising strategy.

Kate: I have posted it on my Facebook page, sent out emails, participated in a story in the local newspaper, and shared a typed version of the story with my friends and family. We are planning a yard sale where all the proceeds will go to our Over the Edge fund. Sariah babysits, and is planning on donating half of the money she raises babysitting to her Over the Edge fund.

If you would like to donate to Kate and Sariah Dyer, you can do so here:

Kate’s Over the Edge page: http://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1155121&lis=1&kntae1155121=D9E2064EF98C43329F037F6337109C75&supId=434512290

Sariah’s Over the Edge page: http://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1155121&lis=1&kntae1155121=D9E2064EF98C43329F037F6337109C75&supId=434728181

If you would like to register for Over the Edge, please do so here: www.OverTheEdgeBoston.com

My Love of Sports & Community

An Essay by Julie Carroll

Ever since I was a young girl, I have wanted to help others. Community service has always been a constant in my life. I have volunteered at road races with my family, have been very involved in my parish and school communities, devoted my free time to helping with Open Houses, volunteered at Bible Camps, supported charity events, served as a class officer, as well as being a member on the merger committee for our future Catholic diocesan high school. During my junior year, I had the opportunity to form a new school club which became known as the Special Olympics Support Club. The purpose of the club is to work with the Special Olympics Massachusetts organization to assist with their mission of providing year-round sports training and competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Volunteering with Special Olympics has become so meaningful to me that I feel I would not be the same person today without this valuable experience.

SOS Club 2016

Julie in her School’s “Special Olympics Support” Club yearbook picture.

My story began many years ago in my childhood. Just weeks before the start of kindergarten, I was diagnosed with a permanent bilateral hearing loss. Essentially, this meant that I would have to wear hearing aids for the rest of my life in order to hear at the same level as the average person. Nevertheless, I was blessed to have been born with a high-frequency hearing loss only, not complete deafness. Even without hearing aids, I am able to hear most of everyday conversations, aside from very soft or high pitch sounds.

Since my diagnosis, I knew that I would always be different. I would always be known as the girl with the hearing aids. On the sports field, however, I eventually found this was not true. Aside from missing the occasional whistle during a game, I was no different from any other athlete. Whether on the soccer field, the softball diamond, the basketball court, or eight-lane track, I found my competitive spirit was just as fierce as everyone else’s. I felt at home on the sports fields and eventually my success in athletics allowed me to be seen as a hard-working and dedicated athlete rather than someone with a disability. Now, many years later, I am no longer self-conscious about my differences. I have confidence in who I am and in what I can accomplish.

My love for sports and desire to help the broader community led me to form the Special Olympics Support Club, through which I hope to help the intellectually challenged athletes gain the same confidence I found in myself and to help them view themselves as strong, unique individuals. I have learned to accept people for who they are and not to judge them by their outward appearance. I hope to teach the students who participate in the club, and by extension students in our school, to see others the same way. I often wonder how my life would be different if I had never been given the chance to prove myself, simply because I wore hearing aids. I imagine how devastating that would have been for my self-esteem. I truly love to help these athletes realize their full potential, and to see their parents stand proud as they watch their children compete. It has been so rewarding to witness the radiant glow on the athletes’ faces and to share in their positive energy and enthusiasm as they compete to the best of their abilities.

Athletics has enabled me to identify myself as a unique individual. I have grown into the confident person I am today through my participation in sports. This experience has led me to seize opportunities to inspire others to realize that they too are not defined by their disability, but rather by their accomplishments both on and off the playing fields.

Play Unified Podcast – Greg Schwartz

Doug and Greg_21 miler

Greg (in the bunny ears) pictured with 2016 and ’17 Marathoner Doug Keith at the 21 mile training run in March

Welcome to the Play Unified Podcast. On this episode, we chat with Greg Schwartz and his mom Patty. In addition to being a multi sport athlete with Special Olympics Massachusetts, Greg ran the 2016 Boston Marathon as part of the Special Olympics Massachusetts Marathon Team! Topics discussed include Greg’s experience at Winter Games in Worcester – his Milford team came in 2nd place to their rivals from Cambridge, the upcoming Spring sports season and the terrible training conditions leading up to Marathon Monday last April.

Marathon Spotlight: Sue Freidus

Originally appeared as an article on the Corning intranet:

Sue Freidus Profile PhotoWith every step she takes in the 2016 Boston Marathon this month Sue Freidus will be helping athletes with intellectual disabilities experience the joy of sports and celebration.

Sue, digital program manager for Corning Life Sciences, has pledged to raise $10,000 for Special Olympics Massachusetts. The Funds she is raising will allow as many as 26 athletes to attend a year’s worth of training, meets, and other Special Olympics events throughout the state.

In exchange for her pledge, Sue earned a place at the starting line for one of the world’s premier sporting events.

“Special Olympics is such a great organization,” said Sue, who will turn 55 years-old just before the April 18 race. “It’s been a real joy preparing for all this – and I can hardly believe the marathon is almost here.”

Sue, a native of Newton, Massachusetts, was a spectator at many Boston Marathons as she was growing up. She admired not only the traditional runners, but also the wheelchair athletes – all of them strong and determined as they raced along Commonwealth Avenue.

At the same time, she was deeply moved by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, another Bostonian, who founded Special Olympics in 1968.

“We always followed what she was doing,” Sue recalled. “I remember watching her on black and white television as she rolled out the organization. It was so fascinating to see her create this new opportunity for people who’d never had it before.”

Sue, who joined Corning in 1999, started running 15 years ago. It was a great way to stay fit as she entered her 40s.

She ran 5k races and became an advocate for fitness and philanthropy at the Life Sciences office. She joined colleagues in events like the 2010 Race for the Cure in Boston. She edged up her stamina and started running 10ks and even a few half-marathons over recent years.

“But I never, ever dreamed of running a marathon.” She said.

That all changed last fall. Because she had participated in several “Jolly Jaunt” runs to benefit Special Olympics, she was on the organization’s email list – and got a message inviting her to apply for one of eight slots the organization would have in the 2016 Boston Marathon.

Significantly, she was in her family’s small vacation home at the time – a place they’d affectionately names “Eunice” after the Special Olympics founder.

By pledging to raise a significant donation, charity-sponsored runners could forgo the usual speed qualifications required of most Boston Marathon runners.

Sue’s first instinct was to delete the email. But she glanced up and saw a photo of Eunice Kennedy Shriver smiling down on her. Almost before she knew it, she was filling out the online application form.

I grew up watching the marathon, always being on the sidelines but never in the game,” she said. “But I had a choice. Many folks with intellectual disabilities wouldn’t have a choice. Without something like Special Olympics, they’d always be on the sidelines. So I thought, let’s raise some money to get them in the game.”

A phone interview came next – and just before Thanksgiving, Sue received word that she’d been accepted. She began a rigorous training schedule almost immediately. A friend provided coaching and tips, and Sue used Runkeeper smartphone app to schedule her workouts and track progress.

All through the cold New England winter, Sue devoted herself to training. Treadmill runs, outdoor track runs, and grueling uphill runs were all a part of her weekday regimen. Saturdays were reserved for long training runs.

It hasn’t all gone smoothly. She pulled a hamstring in December. It healed, but still bothers her. She ran a half-marathon in March and tweaked her back. Still she is facing the 26.2-mile race this month with excitement – thanks in large measure to the enthusiastic support of friends, family, and co-workers in Life Sciences.

“The outpouring of donations and good wishes has been so humbling,” she said. “It just amazes me. Everyone has been so generous – and the more we raise, the more we can help people participate in Special Olympics. That’s the thing I’m proud of most.”

The Massachusetts chapter of Special Olympics has nearly 12,000 athletes ranging in age from 2 to 104. The group offers participation in more than 24 sports. A wide variety of related services – like health screening and public education about intellectual disabilities – help create a well-rounded, year-round program.

“If there’s one word I could use about Special Olympics, it’s inclusion’ – giving opportunity to people who might not otherwise have it,” Sue said. “That’s what it’s all about.”


Donate to support Sue

Families Newsletter gets a Refresh

Mary Beth - 1 (1)Dear Special Olympics Massachusetts Family,

Happy Spring and welcome to the first edition of the Special Olympics Massachusetts Families eNewsletter. Our hope is this eNewsletter will provide you with information regarding the happenings of Special Olympics Massachusetts as well as a link to a myriad of resources that we hope will be beneficial to you. Special Olympics Massachusetts relies heavily on our coaches and our volunteers to pass on critical information to our families. We want this eNewsletter to be a vehicle that helps transmit seasonal and other critical information.

Special Olympics Massachusetts accomplished a lot in 2015. The athlete base continues to grow and we now serve 11,895 athletes throughout the Commonwealth in 24 sports and 245 competition opportunities. Our youngest athlete is 2 ½ and our oldest athlete is 104! Yes, you read that right, 104 and I had the awesome opportunity to watch him compete in candlepin bowling in March. As we move into 2016 and beyond, our goal at Special Olympics Massachusetts is to ensure we offer a continuum of service from Young Athletes programming, to inclusive and traditional opportunities at every school level, to transitional opportunities for athletes graduating from school and finally to ensuring we are able to provide sports for our most senior athletes. To achieve this goal, we must recruit and retain more human and monetary resources. We want to ensure Special Olympics Massachusetts is a partner to your family and your athlete for as long as they need or want us to be.

We welcome your feedback and please forward this eNewsletter to anyone who you think would be interested in receiving but may not be. To those families who volunteer or donate regularly, THANK YOU. We look forward to continuing to work with you to build the great mission of Special Olympics Massachusetts.

In the Spirit of Special Olympics,
Mary Beth McMahon
President & CEO


Our Experience with Special Olympics

By: Sharon Allen

Our son Aaron was a shy, tall, timid and very active boy. In first grade his teacher recommended we sign him up for Special Olympics. What an AMAZING door of experiences and opportunities that opened for Aaron and our family. That was sixteen years and many moves ago.


Gerry, Aaron and Sharon Allen at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.

We want to share some of the highlights we have experienced with you:

  • New friends
  • Organized activities
  • Learning the fundamentals of the sport for each sport played
  • Multiple of sports options to try
  • Competitive play in area, state, national and World games
  • Aaron using on a daily basis the Healthy Athletes nutrition, exercise, hydration plan
  • Opportunity for parents/families to meet and share with other athletes and their families
  • Coaching and Volunteer Opportunities
  • The confidence our son has gained through participation on different teams which he has carried from the field to the classroom, the work place and every new experience he encounters.
  • Aaron has also gained Independence to go try new things, meet new people and travel thanks to his experiences with his coaches and teammates around the country and world.
  • Cheering our son, his teammates, as well as all the other athletes he competes against throughout the years
  • Seeing the pride of participation on the athletes faces
  • Unified Sports has raised the level of competition for our son. Through Unified sports our son and the partners he has on his team, or plays against are equals working towards the common goal of playing the best game they can as a team.

Whether you are a young athlete, school age (elementary through high school), or transitioning out of school into the workforce, there are teams and sports available for you to be involved in. Our son is in the Transition stage (meaning in Massachusetts at age 22 his mandated right to formal public education is complete). This can be a scary time for the athlete and family. Unlike, formal education Special Olympics does not end at a certain age and provides an important constant in the athlete’s life – sports, they can be involved with. In our son’s case, Special Olympics is helping him move through this potentially difficult time while experiencing success in sport with his friends and teammates.

Despite the snow falling outside of our window today, we welcome you to the spring 2016 season. We look forward to seeing, meeting and cheering you, our athletes and families on together throughout the coming season.

Sharon, Gerry and Aaron Allen

Rob Gronkowski Stops by School Day Games in Ashland

New England Partiots Tight End Rob Gronkowski along with teammates Geneo Grissom and AJ Derby sopped into help out at the 5-town School Day Games in Ashland today. In addition to leading the athletes in stretching drills, Gronk and the boys were able to interact and participate alongside the students.

Great article by ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss:


Thanks to MassLive for taking this video:

Thanks to WBZ Radio’s Karen Twowmey for this report