Guest Blog: Coaching at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania State Games

Conor O’Donnell has been an Affect Strategies intern since May 2007. A Philadelphia native and current NYU student, Conor returned home last weekend to participate in the Special Olympics’ annual Pennsylvania State Games. We asked Conor to step into the guest blogger seat to tell us about his experience.

specialolympicspa.gifI’ve been volunteering with Special Olympic Swimming for 5 years now. After a hiatus because of college and work, I returned this past weekend to Penn State to help coach at the yearly Pennsylvania State Games. On the bus to State College, my friend and fellow volunteer muse about our situation. Most volunteers participate for a year or two in high school and then move on. Yet here we were, seasoned veterans, trekking across the rural nothingness that is central Pennsylvania.

State Games is a four day marathon of competition, ceremonies and events designed to foster community and friendship. With more than 2100 athletes and 800 coaches and volunteers, the campus bubbles with frenzied activity. The swimming competition is 3 days. Our days consist of military-like schedules: Rise at 6 am. Breakfast. Pool for morning session. Lunch. Pool for afternoon session. Dinner. Dorms to change. Nightly event (ranging from games night to BBQ cookouts). Back to dorm. Team meeting. Athletes curfew. Coaches meeting. And then finally…I crash.

All of my athletes did incredibly well over the weekend. I’d say 75% of them set personal records in the pool. Win or lose, out of the pool they come with grins to put Julia Roberts to shame. The medal ceremony after each event is a favorite among my swimmers. They don’t even try to hide their pride as the judge laces the medals around their neck. In every sense of the word, it’s awesome.

The bus ride back. My friend and I slip in and out of consciousness as we journey home. We’re dead tired and completely drained, but looking back – it’s been a great experience. I’ve known a lot of the athletes I coach for more than 5 years now. Most of them are older than me and have been doing the Special Olympics since they were 10. I suddenly realize why I’m still on this bus. Special Olympics is so much bigger than me and my experience. It’s a collective good that touches thousands of lives. It allows those less fortunate to get away from home, be independent and gain a sense of confidence. This is more important to them than most will ever know. And thus I too know it’s something important to be a part of, even if mine’s only a small part. So I glance out the window and smile. One year from now, I’ll be in exactly the same seat.

Interested in becoming a Special Olympics volunteer? Contact your local Special Olympics chapter. Thanks again, Conor!

1 Comment Guest Blog: Coaching at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania State Games

  1. Ms Lisa Baraniewicz

    Kudos to Conor and the other coaches and volunteers who participate in the Special Olympics. Their efforts truly help make a difference in the lives of these athletes.

    Conor, as I read your blog, I was very moved by your words.
    Keep up the good work.

    P.S. PA is a BEAUTIFUL state! :-d

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