On Friday, Feb. 10 and Saturday, Feb. 11, the Rochester community welcomed athletes and coaches throughout the state for the Special Olympics New York 2012 State Winter Games.
The Special Olympics provides an opportunity for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) who are over the age of six to compete in a variety of athletic events. This year’s games included snowshoeing, alpine skiing, Nordic I and II skiing, floor hockey and figure skating.
“The Winter Games were a great success,” Special Olympics Genesee Regional Director Robert Marketell said.
There were more than 800 competing athletes and over 800 community members who volunteered at the games, according to Marketell.
Prior to the start of competition, an opening ceremony was held at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Athletes marched in with their respective city teams while being cheered on by fans and local school sports teams. There were also guest performances by the ROC City Singers, SUNY Brockport’s Sankofa dancers and UR’s own Yellowjackets, who sang “Wavin Flag.”
“There was already a heightened atmosphere because of the competitive aspect of the games,” YellowJackets member and freshman Ian Wallace-Moyer said. “I think the message and beat of the song really helped to just heighten the mood and get everyone pumped up for what would follow.”
Following the ceremony, the competitions began, starting with floor hockey at the convention center.
According to Marketell, volunteers are what make the Games a success. They not only help run the events, but are also involved with planning out the details of the program months in advance.
Individuals throughout the entire Rochester community were involved in the volunteer efforts, including some from the UR campus.
Junior Lauren Gunther described how the ice skating competition, which was held at Genesee Valley Park Ice Skating Rink, was a philanthropic outing for her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau. A group from the sorority went to the event and cheered on all the athletes as they competed.
“I gained a better understanding for what the games are about and how they work,” Gunther said. “I really appreciated the opportunity to see each athlete perform and was impressed by their courage and dedication.”
Marketell also described how the games are not just important for the athletes and volunteers, but also affect the entire Rochester community. They illustrate the abilities of individuals with ID, rather than their disabilities.
“The next time someone sees an individual with ID, they will see a downhill skier, a snowshoer and a floor hockey player first,” Marketell said. “They will recognize and respect their abilities. That is what it is all about: inclusion, dignity and respect.”
According to Marketell, the Rochester community will host the Special Olympics New York State Winter Games again in 2013.
Cozen is a member of the class of 2015.