Lessons from Special Olympics

From left, Filippo Collini, Elliot Perretta, Lorenzo Mencaccini, Jackson Frazier, and Head Coach Chris Eder manning the score table.

October 21st marked a day of altruism and soccer for the Castleton Alpine Ski Team who volunteered for Special Olympics, New York.

The constant rain did little to quell the jubilant spirits of athletes and echoing cheers of spectators from the early morning until the awards ceremony in the afternoon. The event reestablished the underlying purpose of sport that is often blurred in the arena of collegiate competition, allowing Ski Team members to immerse themselves in the unrefined enjoyment of team sport.

The Special Olympics, according to their website, is a “global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community” through sport. While the competition is grounded in providing individuals with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to compete, the standard of sportsmanship, competitiveness, and intensity remains.

“When one looks around at the athletes at a Special Olympics event, there is no complaining and no feeling sorry for themselves,” said Chris Eder, Head coach of the Castleton Alpine Ski Team. “I think our team can learn something from these athletes.”

Each sports team at Vermont State University Castleton is required to complete voluntary or community service work annually. The Alpine Ski team previously volunteered at Middlebury’s Kelly Brush Foundation, however, have taken on the Special Olympics, New York for the past two years.

Senior member of the Alpine Ski team, Petra Veljkovic reflected on her time volunteering at the two events, concluding that the Special Olympics was “more engaging, more satisfying for us as volunteers as we could be a part of their experience.”

Volunteering since 2011, Eder maintains his favorite aspect is “the comradery and sportsmanship displayed by the Special Olympics athletes.”

Teams competing at the Special Olympics, New York have fought their way to the State-level from local events and regional competitions. The excitement of the day persevered amidst the constant sheet of misty rain, as divisional games culminated into a sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat championship game.

Christopher Kerven, senior member of the Alpine Ski team, explained the event “reinforces the reason to why we all started doing sport from the beginning, the pure love and happiness we got out of performing our sport. No matter the result.”

From left, Petra Veljkovic, Karleigh Hollister, Mia DiOrio, and Camille Jackson.

“I fell down, but got straight back up!” said a player from the tournament champions, the City Hawks. “I love soccer!” added another athlete from Niagara Orleans.

Enthusiasm and joy left a distinct impression upon the volunteers, as Veljkovic noted, “the biggest thing for me was to see their smiles and seeing them fight and work together, their excitement, it was such a pure joy to watch.”

Stacy Eder, the Statewide Director of Community Engagement & Events with Special Olympics New York, is tasked with managing the state level events in addition to acting as a liaison between the USA branch and World-level events. Having volunteered for five years prior to officially engaging with the organization as an employee over the past 15 years, Stacy has witnessed the transcendent impact sports have on the lives of all involved.

“The greatest thing about sport is that it doesn’t matter if you have a disability or if you do not have a disability. As an individual, you have the opportunity to practice and master your sport to be the best you can and that is done on every level,” Stacy Eder said.

Certainly, the Special Olympics challenges societal conceptions that sports are reserved for the physically elite and grounding it the idea that sports cannot be reduced to a binary measure of success, rather, it is an arena for self-improvement and enjoyment at all levels.

“My favorite part is watching our athletes compete and getting that recognition they deserve for their hard work,” Stacy Eder added.

While the Castleton Alpine Ski team cheered from the sidelines, they were fully immersed in the competition, vying for winners, and holding their breath with anticipation as players made for the goal. Following a successful 2022/23 season, the Ski Team will certainly take on the optimism and pure joy felt at the Special Olympics into their upcoming season.

Tournament Champions City Hawks posing with medals.

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