A Summer of Stars

A new phenomenon was born this summer – #SOMAStars shares the stories of Special Olympics Massachusetts athletes, volunteers and partners. Here is a look back at the summer of stars!

#SOMAStars Cory P. Sports: Basketball & Bowling While helping out at a Western Mass Dunkin’ Donuts Tip-a-cop event, Corey was asked what Special Olympics Meant to him, here is what he had to say: “Special Olympics Massachusetts to me is that social equality, social interaction through friends, good sports, good company, a lot of good laughs and just enjoying yourself. [It’s about] overcoming every obstacle you have with a disability. Also something people with disabilities, you look at them like “Oh what can they do?” Well, with Special Olympics you feel like you are part of something and its one of the most greatest organizations I have ever been a part of. It’s a great place to donate and have fun and have a good time!” “It was tough to make friends when I was growing up with Asperger’s. Special Olympics helped me meet new people and make new friends.”

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#SOMAStars Lauren H. (with teammates Gregg and Matt) Sports: Softball “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.” – Lauren H #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars World Games Week Andrew MacLeay Special Olympics USA Athletics Management Team "Being a member of Team USA is a great honor for me. I enjoy every opportunity I get to see Special Olympics athletes compete, and I can't wait to do this on a world stage." "For the past four years I have been employed as a Sports Manager for Special Olympics Massachusetts. I did not know a whole lot about Special Olympics prior to applying for this position, but I can now count accepting the job as one of the best decisions I have ever made." "My hobbies include golfing, basketball, hiking, scrabble and most importantly making sure my brothers stay aware that I am better than them at everything." #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars World Games Week Christopher Drewniak Chris is a Special Olympics Team USA bowling athlete from Ludlow, Massachusetts. His favorite hobbies are collecting elephants and trophies as well as taking pictures. Christopher’s Special Olympics experience began at the age of ten when a local gymnastics coach at Thompsons in Hadley, MA asked if he would like to compete in Special Olympics – Christopher said yes! Participation has changed Christopher’s life by making him feel strong and powerful, as well as connecting him with new people, coaches and friends. He is also not afraid to talk to volunteers or other athletes and coaches from competing teams. Attending World Games will be a good experience for Christopher. He can’t wait to compete and meet new people from different countries. Christopher says being in LA without his family will build his confidence and help him work on his independence. He hopes to go to more Nation and World Games in the future. In 2010, Christopher was a member of the Massachusetts Delegation to National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska. He earned silver and bronze medals in the doubles and team competitions respectively. Off the field, Christopher was a member of the Ludlow High School National Honor Society and awarded the Student of the Week honor twice. Aside from his accomplishments in the sports world and in his academic pursuits, Christopher has a passion for photography. He was the photographer for the Ludlow High yearbook and received an A in a 3-credit photography course at the local technical college. If all that wasn’t enough, Christopher is an Eagle Scout with Troop 182 in Ludlow, MA. #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Chief Tim Garner Unlike many volunteers who are so passionate about Special Olympics, Garner didn’t personally know any athletes before he began volunteering; “I just love working for the kids,” he says. “They are our future, and it gives me great pride to be able to do things for them no matter what.” Garner’s first interactions with Special Olympics were back in the 80s, “when the Winter Games were held in the Berkshires,” he notes. Garner assisted in the speed skating competitions at Williams College. He says that he began volunteering because his father was so passionate about it. “My father was a huge supporter and volunteer of the games,” says Garner “and he inspired me to become involved, along with my wife, as well as other family members. We continued to volunteer for years, even after his passing.” #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Kevin Sports: bocce, bowling "I like sports because it gets me out of the house. I love meeting new people. " #summorofSOMA

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#SOMAStars EMC2 “We have done several events with Special Olympics. Last year we did a track meet at Attleboro High School where we brought 30-40 people from EMC down there to help out. We were escorts for some of the young athletes and did an awards presentation and things like that and we all had a great time. And then the four of us are in the same department and we did a smaller event with Special Olympics last fall where we went to a young kid’s day camp or school where we helped with an obstacle course – similar to today – and we wanted to keep the relationship going.” When asked about a highlight from their experience, Jay explained “I would say the first event, just seeing the joy in the kids’ eyes as they competed in some of the events. They face so many obstacles in their lives. If we can give them something to be happy about some sort of joy in their lives, that makes us all feel very good and it makes them feel good, more importantly.” “At EMC we have several volunteer days that the company gives us to do things like this. It’s a great way to get out in the community build teamwork with the people you work with and do some great work with a great organization and really make people feel very, very happy about themselves all at the same time. That’s what we love about it.” “I like actually getting involved and seeing how happy they are because it’s a world we’re not that familiar with when we’re stuck in the office so seeing it happen and actually making a difference is probably the most rewarding.” #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Cynthia G. “Hi everyone! I now live independently on my own and see the positives in my life. I enjoy Special Olympics at lot. It keeps me growing and learning through all different sports. It keeps me happy and healthy too. Special Olympics is a dream that came true. It is a blessing that we have talents and strengths. And we all have different ways of facing our different challenges. We are all very special in a lot of ways and I have learned to learn from others with a smile that never leaves my face. I love my life and my support system keeps me growing in the right direction. I do a lot of happy things that keep me happy with good friends. It is an honor to see all the Special Olympics teams. My team is the Cape Cod Waves. Congratulations to all Special Olympics teams!” #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Anthony (Trey) M. Being in the Special Olympics means so much to me because I feel part of something special and I love the passion, commitment, desire, devotion and love for sports that I have given as well as my teammates and want to thank my coaches as well for motivating me and helping me to achieve my goals and dreams. I also like that everyone in the Special Olympics is treated as equals and makes you feel like you are part of something special and part of something that all of the people involved with this great organization love doing and enjoy doing and thanks to its founder we are all allowed to do this and have fun and make friends and play the sports we love and even volunteer at events as well. #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars World Games Week Jennifer Harrington "It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, I hope more people will have a chance to join Special Olympics," says Jennifer Harrington of Massachusetts, when asked about being selected for Special Olympics Team USA. "I've made new friends, [through Special Olympics] the coaches believed in me and pushed me to be where I am today. I am more outgoing and talk to more and different kinds of people," says Harrington. When she's out of the water Harrington likes movies and activities, puzzles, reading and phone chats. She is also an accomplished hiker. Jennifer is an Adirondack 46’er a club exclusive to athletes who have climbed all of the 4000+ foot high peaks in the Adirondacks. With an eye on the future, Jennifer hopes more people have a chance to join the Special Olympics movement! #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars World Games Week Amanda Church Amanda is a member of the Special Olympics Team USA aquatics team from North Easton, Massachusetts. Her favorite hobbies are watching her favorite team, the Oakland A’s, on TV; watching college soccer and basketball – especially March Madness! Special Olympics has changes Amanda’s life by building her confidence in public speaking because she is a Global Messenger. It has also given her the opportunity to make friends and have fun as well as becoming physically fit from her training and competing. Amanda has always dreamed for this opportunity, and hopes Special Olympics continues to grow so more athletes can have the experiences she has. Amanda Church is a Special Olympics athlete from Easton Massachusetts who has competed in basketball, aquatics, and flag football. She was an intern for the Special Olympics Massachusetts South Section Office in Taunton, MA. Amanda was inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame in September of 2012. Amanda has two older brothers, Todd and Jared. Amanda loves to spend time with her nieces and nephew when she gets a chance to go visit them in Chicago. Amanda lives with her dad Jim and mom Jackie, enjoys their company and hopes to grow up to be just like both of them. #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Collins Family "Our family is so involved with the mission of Special Olympics because …. Special Olympics has provided an avenue for ALL 6 of our children to learn so many great lessons about how to grow up to be responsible, caring people. Through the games, celebrations, and defeats Charlie has grown to be a confident, active, inspiring young man. By volunteering, coaching, and fundraising, Charlie's brothers and sister, have grown to feel the pride of helping others achieve their goals as well as challenging themselves to events that put them out of our comfort zone and feel what their brother feels every day!! I think we have been given a gift that most families/ people can't imagine. Thank you Special Olympics!!! Photo is of the whole family at the Over the edge event this year. Charlie is in the center and is the Special Olympic Athlete!! Nina and Robert were the repellers, Frank is the EMARC PIRANHAS swim coach, Aidan, along with the whole family participates in the POLAR PLUNGE and Paul is the EMARC basketball family game participant vs. Charlie's team!! #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Katie M Sports: Track & Bowling “I love the opportunity to compete!” #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Jessie M. Sports: Lots! I have been Plunging (participating in the Polar Plunge to raise money for SOMA) for 12 years and I have been involved in Special Olympics since 1993. I’ve won in powerlifting, four gold medals in Iowa for lifting, have done up to 12 sports, but now am down to two sports now do to my cancer. I have done track and field, basketball, bowling, skiing, powerlifting, sailing, soccer, softball, snowboarding, tennis and swimming. I have not been able to keep up with my sports do to my illness. I struggle more, but you wouldn’t know I have cancer. I have let go of a lot of my sports now because I don’t have the strength that I had since four years with my illness. I now do soccer, skiing and am on hold for swimming now until my arm closes up from where my scabs are. I found it a lot harder, but try to still do the best I can. I just take one day at a time and look at it as being a dream. That’s what makes it through each day. #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars World Games Week Michael Shapiro is a member of the Special Olympics Team USA Athletics/Track and Field team. He will be competing in the 100 meter Dash, shotput and the team relay at World Games. He's 42 years old and is from Massachusetts. He says he's very excited to be a member of the team and is looking forward to meeting new people and winning gold medals! He says that he is excited to experience competing in front of thousands and thousands of people in LA. Michael’s Special Olympics career has included a trip to National Games with his basketball team in 2010 and most recently attending the National Games last year as a track athlete. Michael’s personal best time in the 100 meters is 16 seconds! Michael enjoys bike riding and playing softball. He says that his mom is involved and serves as team photographer. #SummerofSOMA

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#SOMAStars Martin “I scored a goal” #SummerofSOMA @grotonwood

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#SOMAStars John S. Sports skills participant. "If I was at home I would be working. This was better" #SummerofSOMA

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Olympia Moving & Storage Recognized at Fenway

Special Olympics Massachusetts was excited to spotlight our relationship with Olympia Moving and Storage – our official logistics partner – on Special Olympics Day at Fenway Park. The presentation of a plaque expressing our continued thanks for the support and logistical assistance provided by Olympia took place prior to a game between the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals on August 20, 2015. Special Olympics 2015 World Games athlete Amanda Church, fresh off her medal winning performance in Los Angeles, presented the plaque to CEO Michael Gilmartin and his son, VP of Sales & Marketing Piet Gauchat and Marketing Manager Rachael Fischer.

Grotonwood Skills Day a Success

DSCF1105We love our partners, especially when they host us at their camp! This past Thursday, August 13th, Special Olympics Massachusetts was lucky enough to visit Grotonwood Camp in Groton, MA to run a skills day competition. Adults with intellectual disabilities in the Grotonwood program participated in throwing, kicking, hitting and running drills topped off with a closing ceremony complete with Special Olympics Medals. This event would not have been as successful without the help of another group of partners – four members of the EMC2 finance department from Hopkinton, MA who helped out on one of the volunteer days provided by the company.

The day began with EMC2 helping to set up the sports programming. The organizer and head of the department Jay discussed his company’s generous philosophy on volunteerism “At EMC we have several volunteer days that the company gives us to do events like this. It’s a great way to get out into the community, build teamwork with the people you work with and do some great work with a great organization. That’s what we love about it.”

MDF_0299Jay and his department have chosen to Support Special Olympics Massachusetts with their volunteer days for the past few years. “We have done several events with Special Olympics.” Said Jay, adding “Last year we did a track meet at Attleboro High School where we brought 30-40 people from EMC down there and helped out. We were escorts for some of the young athletes and did an awards presentation and things like that and we all had a great time.”

When asked about why volunteering is so rewarding, Jeff, another EMC2 employee added “I guess I like actually getting involved and seeing how happy they [the Special Olympics participants] are because it’s a world we’re not that familiar with when we’re stuck in the office, so seeing it happen and actually making a difference is probably the most rewarding.”

Jay added that one of the highlights of the volunteer days was “The first event, just seeing the joy in the kids’ eyes as they competed in some of the events. They face so many obstacles in their lives. If we can give them something to be happy about some sort of joy, that makes us all feel very good and it makes them feel good, more importantly.” This experience has inspired Jay and his department to return again and again.

MDF_0470 (1)On this day, there was much joy. The campers from Grotonwood made their way through four stations that were designed to test their skills and get their hear rate up. Most importantly, the stations all led to excessive smiling. One of the participants, Tabitha, mentioned “I liked playing kickball a lot. It helps with my self-esteem. I have low self-esteem. Today helped.”

Danielle Mosher, one of the staff members at Grotonwood explained their history and why a partnership makes sense “We’ve been serving adults for over 50 years and we have been watching what Special Olympics has been doing and it’s [sports] something a lot of our campers are really passionate about. We actually went to the competition at Fitchburg State University this spring and that was such a wonderful, successful event so this was definitely an organization we wanted to get involved with and we wanted to be a part of.”

This is the first season Special Olympics Massachusetts and Grotonwood Camp have collaborated to provide athletic opportunities for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults. Danielle described the summer’s first event “I think it [the highlight] was probably the kids making a tunnel and seeing the encouragement and the teamwork that was developing between staff and kids and adults with disabilities.” As we learned later in the day, the tunnel is two lines of Grotonwood’s day campers cheering for and high fiving the athletes after the medal ceremony. This provided a wonderful end to an excellent event and really showed the camp spirit shared by all.

Photos from the Event can be seen on the SOMA Smugmug Page.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Tracey Sheak

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By Theresa Gaffney

If you ask Tracey Sheak how she got involved with Over the Edge for Special Olympics, she’ll laugh, and tell you how she was quite literally “roped” into it.

Working at a law firm in Connecticut, Sheak travels often for work.  For two years in a row, she participated in the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts Golf Tournament, sponsoring a group of firefighters.  It was here that she met Boston Firefighters John Sarro and Bob Petti.  When they brought up an annual fundraiser they did for Special Olympics Massachusetts, Sheak was immediately interested.  She had always thought fondly of Special Olympics; her two sons, now grown, were actively involved with the organization as kids, volunteering as coaches and “huggers” for various sporting events.

She told Sarro and Petti that she’d love to help them out with a fundraiser.  “I thought I was agreeing to be a hugger,” Sheak remembers.

She was soon shocked to find out the details of Over the Edge, an event where participants repel from the roof of a Boston hotel building.  The idea terrified Sheak, and she hoped that Sarro and Petti would forget that she had agreed to participate.  They didn’t.

“I was too macho to back down,” says Sheak.  But she was definitely scared.

Learning about Sheak’s background in adventure, it’s surprising that she was so nervous about Over the Edge.  Sheak has been a certified dive master for over 30 years.  She does shark dives and is comfortable going into the ocean’s darkest depths.  She even has experience rock climbing, but says that starting on the roof at Over the Edge was a lot harder than climbing up to the top and then going back down.

“This was a huge fear for me to overcome,” says Sheak.  “But I kept thinking that it is nothing compared to what so many athletes have to overcome every day.”

Luckily, Sheak found that there was plenty of support from staff and volunteers on the day of the event.  “I have met some of the nicest people ever,” she says.

Perhaps the strongest bond she has formed is with Special Olympics athlete Gregg Gallant.  After Sheak’s first time going Over the Edge in 2014, she got an email from Gregg that thanked her for the support.  Over the next year, they kept in touch via email, and finally met for the first time at this year’s OTE.  Gallant came to support Sheak and watch her repel.  Later, Sheak would go to one of his softball games.  The pair have become great friends.

Overall, Sheak describes Over the Edge as an “empowering” yet “humbling” experience.  Despite her original fears, now Sheak could not be more enthusiastic about Over the Edge.  After raising $2500 her first year (two and a half times the minimum donation) she came back this year to raise $2000 more for Special Olympics Massachusetts.

She plans on participating again in 2016, and hopes to convince Gallant to do the same.  Sheak’s advice to anyone who is timid about the idea of going Over the Edge?  “Just overcome it.  Just do it.”

Over the Edge is held each year at the Boston Hyatt Regency, and has raised over $840,000 for Special Olympics since it was brought to Boston in 2011.

Media Coverage from August tournament

The August tournament showcases athletes from across the state, we are so thankful to our media partners who were able to feature some of their stories. Please see below for all of the coverage the season-ending event received:

 

Western Mass News channel ABC40 evening news coverage 8/8/2015:

Special Olympic athletes compete in Easthampton – Western Mass News – WGGB/WSHM.

WWLP Channel 22 News evening coverage 8/9/2015:

Hundreds of athletes gear up for the Special Olympics

WWLP Channel 22 News morning live coverage 8/9/2015:

Special Olympics summer games in the Pioneer Valley

Worcester Telegram article on the fishing competition 8/9/2015:

http://www.telegram.com/article/20150809/NEWS/150809329/101478

Special Olympics World Games. Athlete HQ: Brandon Wood

Brandon Wood is an aquatics athlete from Westfield, MA.

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World Games Highlights/Results:

100 Meter Freestyle: BRONZE

4 x 100 Meter Relay: GOLD

200 Meter Freestyle: SILVER

100 Breaststroke: BRONZE

Incredible effort by Brandon. We learned that World Games takes a lot of endurance and energy. Brandon was able to stay strong and consistent all week. We are very proud of Brandon. Congratulations, B-Wood!!

Video of Brandon finishing first in preliminary round of 200-meter freestyle:

Video interview with Brandon and teammate Amanda Church:

Brandon with his brothers after winning Silver. According to Brandon’s dad Bill, there’s “nothing better!”

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Brandon (far right) with swimming legend Michael Phelps:

Phelps w/ Special Olympics USA

Brandon (white cap) at finish line:

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B-Wood rockin the GOLD:

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