The 2017 Special Olympics PA State Summer Games

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The Area M Swim Team!

From June 1 to June 3, I finished up my role as an Assistant Coach for Special Olympics Swimming at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania State Summer Games. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done for Special Olympics, but it was also one of the best.

Area M, the Special Olympics region in PA where I live, brought 5 coaches and 18 swimmers to the Summer Games. Some of them were athletes I’ve been coaching since January, and it was so exciting to see them compete and win! Others were athletes I just met on Thursday, but we quickly became friends.

We left early Thursday morning and took a school bus to Penn State. I sat next to an athlete who was really kind and friendly. He runs his own private eye and matchmaking business, so on the ride there, he told me all about them. We were on the same bus as the Softball team, and I found out that many of the swimmers and softball players have been coming to the Summer Games for over 20 years!

When we got to Penn State, we quickly checked into the dorms, and then it was time for the first day of competition. We were lucky to have beautiful days the entire time we were there.

That night, it was the Opening Ceremony, and one of the Area M swimmers had been selected to light the torch! That was so exciting because she was one of the athletes I’d been coaching since January. Everyone in the Area M section cheered really loudly for her as she lit the torch with some police officers, and the Games were officially open!

The next two days were filled with a lot of swimming, getting to know the athletes really well, early mornings, late nights, the Athlete Dance, SportsFest, a trip to the Creamery (for ice cream!), and then it was time for us all to go home.

I was exhausted by the end, but I would do it again. I really liked getting to know the athletes. It was the most removed I had been from the actual operations, but the closest I’d been to athletes at a State Games. I definitely made a lot of great friends, and I wish all of them luck with their Fall sports!

Here’s a video I made to sum up my experience!

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Comparing the Paralympics to the Special Olympics

I used to confuse the Paralympics and Special Olympics before I started volunteering and working at Special Olympics, so for this blog post, I decided to make a list of the differences between the two that I’ve noticed and learned so far.

The International Olympic Committee (which is in charge of the Olympics), the International Paralympic Committee (which is in charge of the Paralympics), and Special Olympics International (which is in charge of the Special Olympics World Games) complement each other, but there are definite differences between each of them. I am going to focus on the differences between the Paralympics and Special Olympics because these are more easily confused.

Here are the main differences between the two:

  1. The Athletes: The Paralympics welcomes athletes from six main disability categories: amputees, cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, visually impaired, spinal injuries, and Les Autres (French for “the others,” a category that catches all of the disabilities that do not fall into the other categories). Special Olympics allows anyone with intellectual disabilities over the age of eight to compete.
  2. Ability LevelParalympic athletes are very similar to Olympic athletes. They are elite athletes and must qualify to participate based on score, time, or other standardsSpecial Olympic athletes have many different ability levels, and athletes of any ability are allowed to compete.
  3. Competition Times: The Paralympics happen every two years and are held about ten days after the Olympics in the same venues as the Olympic Games. Special Olympics holds competitions year round, and athletes can compete regionally, statewide, nationally, and internationally.

Even though they are different, they work toward the same goal. Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver explained it as, “We are both trying to use the power of sport to change the way the world sees people who have differences.” Athletes from the Paralympics and Special Olympics show the world that it doesn’t matter what disabilities, abilities, or differences athletes have. The important things aren’t physical. It’s more about how how hard they work to achieve greatness, how committed they are, and how much heart they have. Even though they are different, every pillar of the Olympic Movement inspires me and many other people every day.

Here is the video of Paralympian Matt Stutzman that inspired this whole post:

And, if you are feeling as though you need more inspiration, here is a video of Special Olympians at the 2015 World Games:

Thanks for reading and watching! 😀

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83 days until the Rio 2016 Olympics! (78 days until I go! You can still support my GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/carolynroadtorio)

3 months and 24 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympics!