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

Marybeth.McMahon@SpecialOlympicsMA.org

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.

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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:
http://espn.go.com/blog/new-england-patriots/post/_/id/4791710/rob-gronkowskis-presence-makes-special-olympics-event-extra-special

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Thanks to MassLive for taking this video:
http://video-embed.masslive.com/services/player/bcpid1949030308001?bctid=4826774305001&bckey=AQ~~,AAAAQBxUOok~,jSZP67EiqBfkIeiCdBewgHg1-uVWQxpS

Thanks to WBZ Radio’s Karen Twowmey for this report
http://cbsloc.al/1qmQEQu

Marathon Spotlight – Jen Reilly

By Karina Hornbaker & Lauren Gainor

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Jen in her Super Hero costume for the 17 mile run on February 27th

Jen Reilly’s dedication to Special Olympics Massachusetts goes beyond her commitment to run the 2016 Boston Marathon; Jen is a valued volunteer, a special education teacher for Bourne Middle School, a co-creator of a local Special Olympics program and the sister of an athlete.

Since the start of her involvement 16 years ago when her adopted brother Gregory joined Special Olympics Massachusetts as an athlete, one of Jen’s biggest accomplishment’s was creating the Cape Cod Champs volleyball and flag football program in collaboration with her sister Shannon. Over the years, the Cape Cod program has grown and so has Jen’s investment in Special Olympics Massachusetts. Jen thanks the organization for everything they have been able to give her brother remarking: “We don’t know where he’d be without Special Olympics.” Jen goes on to say that it’s amazing to see how happy he is when he’s participating in Special Olympics; Greg makes a point to write his practices and final games in his planner every week.

After fundraising and running the Boston Jolly Jaunt 5k for Special Olympics each December with her sister, Jen decided to take on the 2015 Boston Marathon as a Special Olympics Massachusetts team member. Jen always thought of how much of an accomplishment it would be to run a marathon, so she decided to “go for it.” During the race, Jen thought about all she accomplished and “couldn’t help but smile when running the Boston Marathon.” After raising over $8,400 for the organization in 2015, Jen decided to come back for another year to take on Boston’s 26.2 miles a second time.

jen reilly2By nature Jen “loves challenges” and believes in always having a goal in mind. Jen says that having the focus of finishing the 2016 Boston Marathon helps keep her motivated during training, especially when she has to wake up early to train in all kinds of weather. When thinking about fundraising, Jen believes any challenges she faces are worth it because her Marathon fundraising will provide opportunities for the athletes to participate year round in Special Olympics Massachusetts which will allow them to participate in 24 different types sports, create friendships, and have something to look forward to. Its people like her brother Greg, her sister Shannon and all the other kids involved in the Special Olympics programs that mentally push Jen to the finish line. Jen says she is so excited to be a part of the Special Olympics Massachusetts Boston Marathon team again this year and has set her sights on going above and beyond her 2015 fundraising amount.

Look for Jen as she runs with Special Olympics Massachusetts for the 2016 Boston Marathon – Good luck, Jen!

Donate to Support Jen