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Special Olympics aims to foster community through athletics

| Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Special Olympics Notre Dame is a club on campus that provides opportunities for people with special needs to gain not only athletic skills but also social skills.

“A lot of what we try to do is getting students of Notre Dame engaged with the athletes in the surrounding community,” sophomore Kristina Kane, communication and outreach of Special Olympics, said. “It’s so much fun for both the students and the athletes to be able to build relationships with each other and have fun playing sports.”

Special Olympics hosts practices twice a week. They practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays for soccer during the fall season and Sundays and Wednesdays for basketball during the winter season. 

“We always have soccer, basketball and football in addition to sometimes helping with swimming,” junior Ellie Olmanson, co-president of the Special Olympics Notre Dame, said. “And we look into events of different varsity sports teams or club teams such as frisbee, golf, track and field. We’re also looking into doing a Zumba event.”

The founding of Special Olympics has to do with a United States national campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. Founded in February 2009, the campaign encourages people to pledge to stop using the word retard. 

“The person who started that campaign went to Notre Dame,” Olmanson said. “The campaign is trying to advocate for kindness and equality for people with special needs and to not put them in a discriminatory place with using the word retarded to describe something as stupid.”

Special Olympics club connects with organizations both on and off campus, like Best Buddies Notre Dame, Special Olympics Indiana and St. Joseph County Special Olympics, to provide the athletes with different opportunities. 

“We’re looking forward to a special needs panel, trying to get a conglomerate of all the special needs clubs here at Notre Dame, and the different opportunities in the community,” Olmanson said. 

The club traveled to the University of Michigan the weekend of Oct. 25 for a football game event. 

“This is actually our second time doing the event,” Olmanson said. “We did this last year at Notre Dame because when Notre Dame and Michigan played, it was here at home. So we tried to continue the tradition by doing it there.”

The age of athletes participating in the Special Olympics ranges from kids in middle school to people in their 40s and beyond. 

“I really love watching the men’s soccer team interact with athletes because athletes are so starstruck to be playing with the Notre Dame men’s soccer team,” Kane said. 

Olmanson is impressed with how much the athletes were able to grow and mature through Special Olympics. She said she helped one girl gain confidence by encouragement. 

“During a basketball season, this girl came for the first time and she had a deformed arm,” Olmanson said. “And she was probably in middle school, elementary school age so she was a little nervous to be with everyone. Because of her arm, she was nervous to shoot, but I said, ‘The best shooters only shoot with one arm and you’re ahead of the game.’”

Special Olympics Notre Dame creates a supportive and mutually rewarding environment, members of the club emphasized. Olmanson said they feel appreciative of the relationships the club has allowed them to form.

“The relationships formed carry out beyond the daily interactions and could grow the confidence of one person which has the butterfly effect that can expand beyond comprehension,” Olmanson said. “I think that’s such a good way to break barriers and to advance everyone who’s a part of it.”

Special Olympics Notre Dame looks forward to having new members join. Students can participate in weekly practices by emailing [email protected]

“There’s no pressure to always come,” Olmanson said. ”We love seeing new faces every time. Our athletes love seeing new volunteers and making those relationships.”

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