Meet Boston Marathon Runner Rachel Dill

By Emme Punches,
Special Olympics Massachusetts Events Coordinator

Special Olympics Massachusetts is excited to have one of our own running the 2017 Boston Marathon. Rachel Dill, Director of Development and Partnerships, is an inspiration to us all. Her dedication, heart and ambition are unparalleled and while we could rave about her all day, we thought it best she tell her story in her own words.

“Six years ago, I had the crazy idea that I wanted to run a marathon before I turned 30. It couldn’t be just any marathon, it had to be Boston. Fast forward to today and it just so happens that the 2017 Boston Marathon falls exactly one month before my 30th birthday. Running the marathon has been in the back of my mind every year for the last six years and I knew that one day I would follow through on this personal goal.

“My connection to Special Olympics Massachusetts runs deep. My sister Jenny has special needs. She is 31 years old and has a developmental delay and learning disability. Jenny is one of the most kind and compassionate individuals I know and never fails to put a smile on my face no matter the circumstance.

Jenny & Rachel celebrating Jenny’s 31st birthday at her favorite Thai restaurant!!

“Jenny started competing in track and field with Special Olympics Massachusetts when she was ten years old. (This happens to be the same time I became involved and became president of the Jenny Dill Fan Club.) As we grew older, she continued to participate and I evolved from spectator, to volunteer, to fundraiser, and finally to a dedicated staff member at Special Olympics Massachusetts. For as long as I can remember, I have seen what a positive impact sports has had on my sister. Sports has helped Jenny develop better fitness, expanded her endless social circle, encouraged her to have confidence, and allowed her to experience the pure joy and excitement of winning a medal after a competition. She has taught me so much about myself and the importance of accepting others regardless of their situation. Jenny has truly shaped the person I am today. Having a sister with special needs has only enhanced my experience of one of the most amazing bonds in life: sisterhood.”

All of us at Special Olympics Massachusetts can’t wait to cheer her on as she crosses the Boston Marathon finish line. Go Rachel!

Support Rachel’s Boston Marathon Fundraising Effort Today!

Three Fun Things to do in Massachusetts this Weekend

Jingle through the Streets for Special Olympics

dscn0444-xlToo much pie last weekend? Looking for a way to trim the waistline while supporting a great cause? Put your holiday hat and running shoes on and hit the streets of Boston, Peabody or Hyannis this weekend to support Special Olympics Massachusetts. Run with a friend or make a team and raise funds to support a Special Olympics athlete for an entire year of athletic programming! We’ll supply the t-shirt, jingle bells and festive atmosphere, and you’ll be raising money for athletes with intellectual disabilities. With three locations to choose from, you can run right in your own backyard.

Want to explore the streets of Boston? Then the 12th annual Boston Jolly Jaunt, presented by the New Balance Foundation is the run for you. Saturday, December 3rd runners and walkers will don their favorite holiday gear, lace up their running shoes and take off from the Boston Common. You’ll jingle all the way as you make your way through this flat 5k road race in Boston’s Back Bay.

If running in Boston on Saturday is not your thing, check out one of our other two road races on Sunday, December 4th – Hyannis Jolly Jaunt or Peabody Holiday Torch Run. At the Hyannis Jolly Jaunt you’ll be sprinting from the Cape Cod Resort and Conference Center through the streets of Hyannis on the professionally timed course.

What? You say the north shore is your stomping ground? Then hit the pavement at the Peabody Holiday Torch Run presented by our Law Enforcement Torch Run program – a year round fundraising and awareness program run by law enforcement officers from the around Massachusetts.

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Don’t forget to deck your halls with boughs of holly (put on your best festive gear) so you are entered to win one of the prizes for best costume! All courses are professionally timed and prizes will also be awarded to top male and female runners at each location.

Special Olympics Massachusetts provides year-round sports training, athletic competition and other health-related programming for athletes with intellectual disabilities throughout the state free of charge. There are Special Olympics events almost every day of the week and throughout the year. We can’t do it without your help. Raising $500 will support one athlete for one year of athletic training and competition. Any little bit helps. Sign up today to jingle through the streets!

Amazed & Humbled: A Mother’s Fundraising Story

By: Kate Dyer

Kate with her son & daughter.

Kate with her son and daughter.

In July, my 12 year old daughter Sariah and I decided to participate in Over the Edge for Special Olympics. Initially I was rather apprehensive about the event. Not because Sariah and I would be rappelling off the roof of a 22-story building in Boston. Although my husband and son were not exactly excited about the idea. But rather, because I have always been intimidated by fundraising.

Special Olympics has been important to me for most of my adult life. It offers so much to everyone involved. The Special Olympics athletes get to experience some independence and build their own confidence. They develop new friendships and become reacquainted with ones of old. And, most importantly, the experience gives them a sense of accomplishment, and safe place to feel a part of something much bigger than themselves. Coaches gain an appreciation for each of their athlete’s struggles, learn the importance of patience and build their own organizational skills by leading a team with athletes of many differing abilities. Unified Partners develop more physical fitness, feel the joy of watching athletes experience success, and become involved in an important part of their community. Parents of children involved in Special Olympics suddenly have a full network of likeminded and challenged families within a compassionate and dedicated organization that fits their child’s needs. And the unimaginable joy that comes with watching their child celebrate with their teammates after scoring a goal or basket.

In order for all of this to happen it is important for families to be involved in the fundraising process. Sariah and I used email and Facebook to reach out to family and friends. We sold candy door-to-door and at various events. We hosted a yard sale and were able to get many items donated. And Sariah donated half of her babysitting earnings to raise funds to go Over the Edge. I was amazed and humbled by all the support we received. It was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be and I found when reaching out to friends and family, they were more than willing to support a cause that was so important to our family.

Fundraising for Special Olympics Over the Edge 2016

Kate & Sariah at the 2016 Over the Edge fundraising event

Once we finished collecting the donations, we then had to prepare for the actual Over the Edge experience. We bought matching outfits and decorated our shirts with the names of our athletes and unified partners on the back.

We had gorgeous weather on the day of the event! After checking in we headed up to the roof to prepare for the experience. After putting on the harness, we went through two practice sessions in a small secured area. But now it was time for the real thing. Stepping off the hotel roof edge was both exhilarating and terrifying. The view of Boston while rappelling down the side of the hotel was breathtaking. We were able to see Boston from a vantage that few people get to experience. In addition to the altitude-induced adrenaline was the overwhelming support we received by the friends and family members that came to support us. They stood at the bottom, held signs and cheered for us as we rappelled down the hotel.

Going Over the Edge with Sariah was an amazing mother/daughter moment that I will treasure forever. I was so proud of her. Although nervous, she persevered and the two of us repelled side-by-side. And to add to the experience, Sariah was very excited to learn that she now holds the record for youngest participant to go Over the Edge.

Without fundraising, Special Olympics would not be as successful as it is and we would not have the memorable experiences that we do each season. Going Over the Edge for Special Olympics was an opportunity to fundraise for an organization that our family is passionate about and have an experience of a lifetime.

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

Fenway Park Batting Practice Contest Winners

Athlete Winner: Danny Williamson

My name is Danny Williamson and to me one of the best things about my experience with Special Olympics is the friendships I’ve made and the respect I’ve gotten since I joined. I’ve made friends with athletes and coaches all around the country.

Through Special Olympics I’ve earned the respect and support of my community, family, friends and fellow athletes through my efforts as a teammate and competitor in many sports. Although I stutter, I have gained enough confidence in myself to recite the Athlete’s Oath in front of thousands at Opening Ceremonies in Harvard. I’ve even been able to sing the National Anthem at other Opening Ceremonies.

Special Olympics has given me leadership skills that I use every day as a person, sports manager and coach. I have always been involved in sports, mostly as a coach or manager not an athlete. Special Olympics has let me show what I am capable of as an athlete.

I have competed (and won) at some of the best colleges in the world. State games at Harvard and Nationals at Princeton where I earned gold medals. I got to play football at Gillette Stadium and basketball at TDBank Garden during halftime of a Celtics game. I am hoping to reach my dream of going to Fenway, not as a fan but as an athlete. Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Volunteer Winner: Victor Liu

When I moved to Massachusetts in third grade, I could not speak English and had a difficult time in school, especially socially. Because of my language barrier, I was excluded from the conversations and activities in which most of my peers engaged. But from the outset, I felt welcome because of my classmate Allen, the most incredible person I have had the privilege of knowing and the honor of calling my friend. Allen was an intellectually disabled Special Olympics athlete, and the enthusiasm and optimism with which he lived were remarkable and inspirational.

When I felt down after performing poorly on my first test in the U.S., Allen encouraged me not to dwell on it. When I missed out on a spot on my school’s basketball team, Allen urged me not to give up. And when I experienced issues at home, Allen was there with me and for me. Allen was the best friend I could have asked for, and since his passing three years ago, I have been actively involved in Special Olympics Massachusetts in memory of him. I volunteer at SOMA’s competitions and fundraisers, and as a member of the Youth Activation Council, I strive to increase awareness in schools across our state. At my high school, I have organized R-Word Campaigns to make clear the meaning of the R-word and formed a club dedicated to implementing Project Unify in the local community.

Over the years, SOMA has afforded me the opportunity to interact with students and athletes like Allen, to unify my friends with and without mental disabilities, and, most importantly, to help others—as Allen helped me—feel included and accepted. I am grateful for SOMA for allowing me to carry on Allen’s lifework.

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Tracey Sheak

Tracey-01

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