Students and community volunteer in Special Olympics
Over 75 athletes gathered at the Dartmouth Skiway for the 17th annual Upper Valley Special Olympics on Jan. 26. This year, 140-plus total volunteers – over 75 of them Dartmouth students – supported the athletes.
The Special Olympics hosts two main events: alpine ski races and snowshoe races, which involve 15-200 meter sprints while wearing snow shoes. Students and community members volunteering at the event helped record times, serve breakfast and lunch, escort athletes, hand out awards, cheer, and set up or take down the events.
The games began with an opening ceremony that included an invocation and motivational speech from Olympic cross-country skier Dorcas Denhartog.
Volunteer coordinator Kathryn Robbins ’85 said that she likes the Special Olympics because of the opportunity for “the community [to come] together to support the wonderful athletes and the spirit of competition and teamwork that pervades the day.”
“Seeing the expressions of on athletes’ faces of perseverance and joy and intense effort, their success in competing their events and their whooping it up for each other and hugging each other is priceless,” she added.
Christy Lawrence, a community member from Springfield, N.H., attended the games for the third year in a row to watch her three grandchildren compete. She said that attending the Olympics gave her grandchildren “a challenge and the chance to get out to meet new people.”
Katie Harris ’19 and Oliver Darwish ’18 were the student coordinators in charge of recruiting volunteers for the event. Alex Conway ’20 worked closely with them and will be taking over their position next year.
“The environment during the Special Olympics is a little different,” Harris said. “Everyone there is supporting each other, and even if you wipe out or just don’t feel up for racing that day, everyone is cheering each other on. It’s a different environment from most sporting events.”
This year’s Dartmouth volunteers included six sports teams, two fraternities and one sorority, as well as individual students.
“I started doing the special Olympics with my rugby team,” Conway said. “I loved it my first year. I thought it was so fun. I had a great time interacting with the athletes and seeing a lot of the athletes on campus.”
Ski instructor Sam Reed ’19 volunteered for the first time as a timer on the alpine intermediate slope.
Reed said he had seen the event happen before and it looked fun so he decided he would volunteer.
“Hopefully the Special Olympics reminds people that there is so much good that can be done with so little of your time,” Conway said. “Just by putting on a smile and [being] willing to be a team player and help out can make you feel really fulfilled, and hopefully that spirit carries on into the rest of the year.”
According to director of the Upper Valley Special Games Jim Beattie ’76, the games were founded in 2003 by Pete Bleyler ’61 and run by the Dartmouth Club of the Upper Valley. According to Beattie, they ran it for a few years and then wanted to pass it off to a community group. The event is completely volunteer run.
“A big part of the event is having the Dartmouth community and the overall Upper Valley community come together and show off the cooperation and the fun that we have together when we do things that we are passionate about,” Beatie said.
According to Beattie, the Tuesday after the event the coordinating team will have a get-together for a final meeting where they will look at all of the feedback to see how they can improve the games for next year.