Volunteers make the dream happen for Special Olympians.
The Pursuit of Olympic Glory
Scott Wilson knows the way to the top of the medal stand.
Competing in the 100- and 500-meter classical cross-country skiing races during 2018 Special Olympics Maine Winter Games at Sugarloaf Mountain, Scott added to his collection of Special Olympics medals and ribbons.
“I always have a lot of fun at the Special Olympics,” says Scott, 28, of Lisbon Falls, Maine, who finished first in the 100 and second in the 500. “I was so proud of myself finishing first and standing up on top of the medal stand. I was proud to win both of my medals.”
The medals, which he wore for the day before adding them to his stash, are two of the more than 40 that Scott has hanging in his room. They motivate him to keep working toward his next competition.
“I am already looking forward to the Summer Games,” says Scott, who focuses on skiing in the winter but has changed his focus to the challenge of running four laps around the track this summer. “I am doing the mile run. It’s a long race. I am also going to do downhill skiing at the Winter Games in 2020.”
Special Olympics is a year-round athletic training and competition program for adults and children with intellectual disabilities. This year, more than 400 athletes representing 58 teams flocked to Sugarloaf to compete, socialize and enjoy time away from their regular routines. Over three days, athletes competed in Nordic and Alpine skiing, snowshoe racing, speed skating and dual ski.
“I have been working with Scott for 10 years,” says Patty Whitmore, Scott’s Life Center team coach. “He will train and compete in anything available – track and field, soccer, basketball, floor hockey, Bocce, bowling – that’s just how Scott is.”
Maine, which hosted the world’s first winter Special Olympics games in Gorham in 1969, leans on volunteers and monetary donations to conduct the winter and summer games. Through Special Olympics, athletes have the opportunity to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
More than 3,800 athletes are served in Maine.
“The Games show them they can also be an Olympian,” Patty says. “The confidence competing builds in the athletes is tremendous. And with all of the volunteers, we get a whole sense of community. The volunteer influence is huge. With all of the Special Olympics events, they couldn’t run them without volunteers.”
State Farm® has sponsored the Special Olympics Maine Winter Games through Good Neighbor Grants for the past seven years. Associates have been volunteering since 1982. Agent Robin Thurston’s family donates their lodge to host a pot-luck dinner the Sunday night before the Games. Several other agents and employees, and their family members, participate in the parade and volunteer for events throughout the Games timing athletes, running events, preparing meals, coaching and offering encouragement.
“Volunteers are there from the time we are setting up, right through to when it’s time to break down,” Special Olympics Maine President and CEO Phil Geelhoed says. “We run 18 regional or state level events from our office every year, and we are raising every nickel of the $1.3 million to run our program every year."
“It is so important for Special Olympics to have the support of an organization like State Farm, not just financially, but with volunteers who know their jobs so well, and a natural feeder system that continues to bring us volunteers,” Phil says. “We never have to worry about the cross country event because they run it so smoothly for us.”
The Olympians appreciate it, too.
“It is a positive experience for everybody – the athletes, the organizers and the volunteers,” Patty says. “Nobody volunteers once. Everybody comes back.”
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