Special Olympics Comes to Walla Walla

Emily Solomon, Sports Editor

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Special Olympics (SO) is a program designed to unite athletes with student and adult volunteers through sports. The program has come to Walla Walla, inviting Whitman students to get more involved in their community and volunteer with one of the world’s largest sports organizations. Special Olympics is a nonprofit organization for adults and children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Tracy Gaines is the director of Special Olympics Walla Walla. She views the program as a dream of hers that was sparked by her daughter who has special needs.

“I want others with special needs to find in themselves the ability to persevere and see the rewards of their hard work,” Gaines shared. “There is nothing like seeing the pride on an athlete’s face when they have pushed themselves to the limit and overcome their challenges.”

Gaines has developed many goals for the program, all stemming from her passion for creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of disability. One of her goals was to expand the program, which she has done and continues to do by including more sports and reaching out to more people.

“I hope to provide additional opportunities for athletes by offering a wider variety of sports that will draw in participants and grow community involvement,” Gaines said. “I also hope to provide a lifeline for families that are currently isolated and needing encouragement.”

Senior Whitman swimmer Jonah Rodewald jumped on the opportunity to be a Track and Field coach for Special Olympics Walla Walla.

“After working the past two summers at a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities, I discovered I was passionate about working with this population,” Rodewald explained. “My favorite part [about Special Olympics] is when athletes ask how they can improve and are enthusiastic about learning new skills in their sport.”

Senior Whitman swimmer Jill Low joined Special Olympics because she had more time on her hands postseason and wanted to fill it with a fulfilling experience. After receiving the SO email, she knew immediately that she wanted to be involved.

“I think being part of a sports team is beneficial in so many ways beyond learning a sport and staying fit,” Low said. “There is so much support and camaraderie and I wanted to help people who may not ordinarily get the chance to experience that have the chance to feel that support of being on a team.”

One of the many goals of Special Olympics is to aid in eliminating the stigma that people with intellectual and physical disabilities face. The program works toward this goal by giving athletes a platform to compete and be challenged athletically. They get to create and achieve their own athletic goals while also getting the incredible opportunity to connect with other athletes and partners in the community.

“There is so much stigma about disabilities and just from one SO practice I can see so many people who are so passionate about breaking that stigma and giving people with disabilities the same opportunities as anyone else,” Low said.

Special Olympics athletes get to create and achieve their own athletic goals while also getting the incredible opportunity to connect with other athletes and partners in the community.

Tracy Gaines can be contacted at [email protected] if you are interested in being a Special Olympics volunteer during this spring season or in future seasons. Practices are held Saturday mornings from 9:30-11:30 a.m.