Special Olympics, Special Experience

Award recipient

BOSTON - An athlete cries for joy after receiving her award at the 2012 Special Olympics of Massachusetts, March 10-11, 2012. Coast Guard volunteers from throughout eastern Massachusetts helped the events by keeping score, presenting awards, and spending time with the athletes. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

BOSTON – “I did not catch her name, but there was one young female athlete during the bowling awards that was hysterical for receiving an award that I only assumed was gold,” Cmdr. Jason Smith wrote in a letter to SOMA president Bob Johnson.

Cmdr. Smith was the Coast Guard volunteer organizer for the two-day Special Olympics Massachusetts’s Winter Games held in Worcester, Mass., March 10-11, 2012.

His letter continued:

“She could not even bring herself to get up on the award stands, hugging every Coast Guard member and spectator on the way with a smile that never ended. She had tears rolling off her face and was screaming with excitement. I thought there was a mistake in where they had placed her, but I was wrong. She was so excited to receive her 5th place ribbon.

That’s what drives me and so many other volunteers that realize we don’t just do it for them; we do it for how they make us feel and how they teach us to live. You have so many brave athletes that lead challenging lives yet still radiate so much love even when they come in last place.” 

The Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competitions for individuals with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of skills with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

High five

BOSTON - Coast Guardsmen enjoyed the opportunity to meet and socialize with the athletes of the 2012 Special Olympics of Massachusetts, March 10-11, 2012. Coast Guard volunteers from throughout eastern Massachusetts helped the events by keeping score, presenting awards, and spending time with the athletes. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“It’s an environment where people with disabilities are accepted, appreciated, and awarded,” said Smith. “I’m glad we were able to help and cheer them on!”

Coast Guard volunteers did more than cheer. More than 120 active, reserve, civilian, and auxiliary members supported the 2,400 SOMA athletes by keeping score and presenting awards. One SOMA basketball team even asked to compete against the Coast Guard volunteers during some down-time. The Coast Guard volunteers quickly realized the Special Olympic athletes were better than they originally thought and after a few minutes of “taking it easy on the athletes,” they were playing a hard, full-court game.

“The energy in the gymnasium was high and you could just sense the athletes’ excitement to participate in the games,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Tiffany Huerd from Electronic Support Detachment Boston. “It was so nice to be reminded that no matter what the challenges are that life hands you, you can still come through with a smile.”

The SOMA president was so impressed with the Coast Guard volunteers, he is already asking for Coast Guard attendance at future SOMA events.

“It was an invaluable experience to interact with the athletes and their families that left a warm and memorable impression,” said Officer Candidate Laura McDonald, from Officer Candidate Class 02-12. “I’ve had many officer candidates approach me to thank me and share stories about their experiences. I would personally love to get involved again and will seek out events near my new duty station.”