Lauren Wears Many Hats

This is an excerpt from a speech by Special Olympics Athlete and Global Messenger, Lauren to the Special Olympics Massachusetts Board of Directors on February 28, 2017:

Throughout my involvement in Special Olympics I have held many titles; global messenger, head coach, volunteer, fundraiser, team coordinator, lobbyist, committee member and master of ceremonies. But the title that I cherish the most, the one that I hold close to my heart is athlete. Titles come and go but being an athlete is something no one can ever take away from you. I started Special Olympics when I was 9 years old. To my 9 year old Special Olympics meant friends. By 14 years old my disabilities became so overpowering in my life I moved to a residential school. To my 14 year old self Special Olympics was a loving connection to home. At 18 years old I was living on my own for the first time and experienced all the ups and downs that being a young adult entails. To my 18 year old self Special Olympics was a constant reminder to be true to myself. When I was 21 I encountered some difficult choices regarding my future. To my 21 year old self Special Olympics was the family that stood behind me while I made those decisions. I am now 25. To me Special Olympics is hope. Hope for the mother whose son starts showing signs of autism in preschool. Hope for the father whose disabled adult son applies for a job because he gained the confidence needed by being a team captain. Hope for the brother who never thought his wheelchair bound sister would ever play catch with him until he saw her compete in the softball throw. Hope. Because Hope is the foundation in which all other notions are built upon. And because Special Olympics doesn’t just change lives, it builds futures.

Unified Basketball, Dunking, Community

We are lucky at Special Olympics Massachusetts. So many great people. So many great communities.

Our Greater Lawrence Basketball League in one such example. This league has all the key ingredients of an inclusive and amazing Special Olympics Community: Great athletes, incredible volunteer coaches, an engaged school-based host group (Brooks School in North Andover) and of course… the only unified slam-dunk contest in the world!

Brooks School student-athlete Ethan Gabert-Doyon made this video highlighting all the action!

 

MLS All-Star Week Day 2: Match Day

Tuesday kicked off with a quick breakfast where James checked in with a recap of his first day with his new team.

After the most important meal of the day, James and Julia took the the training field for the final time before the evening’s Match against the Western Conference. Just before taking the pitch, the twins got their head shots and Team Special Olympics Massachusetts photos taken.

 

The Keiths joined all of the Special Olympics Unified teammates for a group lunch and relaxed before heading out to Avaya Stadium for the MLS Works Special Olympics Unified All-Star Match presented by ESPN.

 

At the stadium, the Unified team was greeted by fans looking for autographs and cheering on the athletes. ESPN commentator and former New England Revolution star, Taylor Twellman gave a pep talk and let the East know he was cheering for them! Coach Anthony from Special Olympics D.C. also addressed the team and then they took the field to cheers!

 

 

 

The game was live-streamed on the Special Olympics Massachusetts Facebook Page and the video will remain available. The action was back and forth, but the Eastern conference managed to score twice in the first half! Julia held strong as a defender for the East who kept the West out of the goal through the first 30 minute period. Both players were interviewed at the half (video below).

In the second half, James was inserted as the goalkeeper with the pressure of holding the lead squarely on his shoulders. The West stepped up their attack but James was ready for the challenge; making six saves and keeping a clean sheet, giving the East the victory!

After the game, fans made their way down to the field to cheer on the athletes as they received their medals. Once the ceremonies wrapped up, the athletes and partners signed autographs. One of the signatures most in-demand was James Keith – the “Dab Goalie”, a name given to him by the fans who cheered him on throughout the second half because of his celebratory dance move.

 

The evening wrapped up with a team dinner at Johnny Rockets with Milk Shake Cheers all around! After getting their fill of food, the twins headed over to catch the end of the “Men in Blazers” show and ran into Brian Bilello – the President of the New England Revolution. Brian was nice enough to stop and have a good chat with the Special Olympics Massachusetts crew before snapping this great pic:

New England Revolution President, Brian Bilello with James & Julia.

New England Revolution President, Brian Bilello with Julia & James.

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.

 

Coming to Marlborough: August Tournament!

Today was a big day at the “Yawk”! We are excited to announce that beginning with 2016, the August sports tournament will be held in and around Marlborough, MA. Along with Mayor Arthur Vigeant, and the Marlborough Economic Development Corporation, Special Olympics Athlete Gregg Gallant, VP of Sports Matt Ruxton and CEO Mary Beth McMahon announced the news at a press event this morning at the Special Olympics Massachusetts State Offices – the Yawkey Sports Training Center.

The inaugural event will be held on August 27-28, 2016 and will serve at the culminating tournament for the summer sports season.

Event partners include Avidia Bank and sports venues ForeKicks in Marlborough and the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough. Special Olympics is excited to partner with additional local businesses including hotels and restaurants to provide the necessary services for over 1000 athletes and their families from across Massachusetts.

In case you were not able to make it out to the event, here are the speeches:

Special Olympics Athlete: Gregg Gallant:

Mayor of Marlborough, MA: Arthur Vigeant

Special Olympics Massachusetts President & CEO: Mary Beth McMahon

Special Olympics Massachusetts VP of Sports: Matt Ruxton

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