By Margaret Stewart and Autumne Venturino
Athletes train all year for a chance to compete against the best in the Olympics. Many of them compete in events like alpine skiing, figure skating and floor hockey. No matter the event, all of them are special.
The Special Olympics was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Shriver was inspired to bridge the ability gap within athletics by her sister Rosemary, who had a mild mental deficit.
According to Shriver’s website, “more than three million Special Olympic athletes are training year-round in all 50 states and in 181 countries.”
One of these three million athletes is Brian O’Connell, a dedicated athlete from Brockport. O’Connell has participated in the Olympics for five years. As part of Lifetime Assistance Incorporated, O’Connell is working with kinesiology students at The College at Brockport perfecting his skills.
“I play basketball, bowling track and field and powerlifting,” O’Connell said. “I like bowling the best because I have high scores.”
O’Connell is slowly getting back into training after a six week break, due to surgery that left him with eight stitches in his back. Even though he couldn’t compete this past weekend he still supported his fellow Olympians, like Brian Mann.
O’Connell trains with Mann. At 45, Mann has spent years perfecting his body. And its paid off.
“I like powerlifting,” Mann said. “I like deadlift, squats and bench press.”
Mann is a member of the Trash Talkers floor hockey team and is sponsored by Lifetime Assistance Inc. His talents propelled his team to a victory in the 2019 Special Olympics Winter Games in Rochester.
Every three years, cities across New York State are able to place bids to win the privilege of hosting Special Olympics New York. The Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Special Olympics New York, Robyn Armando, said that Rochester won the last bid which means that they’ll host again in 2020.
This year there will be over 1,000 athletes and coaches competing in the six events. According to Armando, there will be over 1200 local volunteers that will help to support all of the different events.
This year’s Honorary Chair of the NY Special Olympics Winter Games and Monroe County Executive, Cheryl Dinolfo explained that volunteering not only helps the event, it changes lives.
“We have all been inspired by the bravery and perseverance of our athletes who have participated in the past,” Dinolfo said. “As Honorary Chair of the Winter Games, I promise that volunteering at the Special Olympics can be a life-changing experience.”
The games represent more than a yearly celebration of athletic achievement. The Special Olympics represent an equal chance at a happier and healthier lifestyle, one that many people often take for granted.
For 27 minutes, athletes of different ages, genders and abilities come together for a common goal: to compete. The games provide the contest and, no matter how many times they stumble or fall, the athletes continuously rise to the challenge. It is their determination and compassion for all players that make the athletes stand out.
For the last three years, people have flooded the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. They don’t come for the concessions or the vendors or the awards. Win or lose, people attend the Special Olympics in order to be inspired by and support the athletes.
After all, it’s athletes like Mann and O’Connell that make the Special Olympics so special.