Special Olympics Torch Run

We have all seen and heard about the story of the Olympic Torch and watched it be carried into the stadium during the opening ceremonies where it remains lit for the duration of the games. Likewise, we have watched the flame be put out during the closing ceremonies. Several months before the start of the Olympics at Olympia, Greece, the site of the ancient Olympics, the Olympic Torch is ignited and culminates on the day of the opening ceremonies and is typically carried into the main stadium by a sports celebrity from the country that is hosting the games. Said individual uses the torch to start the afore-mentioned flame and this signals the true start of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Torch passes through various cities and towns and is often mentioned on the news in the days and months leading up to the Olympics.

However, what many people are not aware of is the Special Olympics Torch Run which is officially referred as the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR). The LETR has a primary goal very similar to that of this blog, raising awareness of and in their case, money for the Special Olympics brand. Since its inception in 1981, the LETR has raised over $400 million for the Special Olympics. As one might expect, this also serves as the largest fundraiser for the Special Olympics, raising more $42.1 million in 2011. You may be wondering why exactly it is referred to as the Law Enforcement Torch Run. That is due to the fact that every two years before the World Winter and Summer games, law enforcement officers, Special Olympic athletes and support officials take part in the LETR. During the most recent LETR, there was a team of 130 members that took part in the run prior to the Special Olympic World Winter Games that were held this past January in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea. However, these runs are not just held before global competitions, they are also conducted before various local, state and national Special Olympic competitions as well. The only difference between those and the LETR that is held prior to the World Games is that law enforcement officers from all around the world will gather before the world competitions.

It may seem like beating on a dead horse, but we’ve discussed at length just how much the Special Olympics have grown over time and other matters of the sort. As previously mentioned, the LETR was created in 1981. It all came from the idea of a Wichita, Kansas Police Chief. Richard LaMunyon saw it as a way to raise awareness and get involved with the Special Olympics and it has taken off from there. Speaking of growth and development, when I was reading some information regarding the Law Enforcement Torch Run, there was a particular quote that really stuck with me that perhaps best sums up the boom of the LETR over time. “What started as a flicker, thirty-two years ago, has grown into a roaring flame of support and stability for Special Olympics athletes worldwide” (Special Olympics). That quote to me truly signifies just how much the LETR has grown in the time since its inception and will continue to raise more and more money, along with attracting volunteers for the Special Olympics.

http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Donate/Special_Olympics_Torch_Run.aspx

http://www.specialolympics.org/Video3.aspx?id=19953

-Joe Fitzhenry

Let the Games Begin!

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With the 2014 Winter Paralympic games in Sochi Russia rapidly approaching, I think it is about time to start getting people excited for what to expect! To start out I think it is essential for everyone to be aware that this year the games will begin on March 7th and end on March 16th. There will be nearly 700 hundred Paralympic athletes competing over the nine days of competition and 72 sets of medals waiting to be earned.

While the Winter Paralympic games are not nearly as large as the Summer, they are still equally incredible to witness and stay informed on. The competitions are broken down into five categories including Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross Country Skiing, Ice Sledge Hockey and Wheelchair curling. This year the games are anticipating the debut of snowboarding which will be under the alpine skiing category. I think the most impressive aspect about these games is the speed and balance that is involved in some of these sports. Watching people who have trained for weeks and months be able to accomplish such dangerous sports is something that I truly commend each and every one of these athletes for. A lot of people (including myself), are afraid when they ski or snowboard due to the speed they gain and feeling of losing control; when I watched these athletes in video there was no sign of fear , instead nothing but pure determination

The Olympic Park in Sochi is also representing a first. This park is the first one since the Paralympics and Olympics have co-existed where the facilities are the same for both groups. Sochi Olympic Park is the most compact park that has ever been built and was specifically designed to consider the needs for the disabled. I have previously discussed the need for there to be more equality for the Paralympics and I believe this is a great step in the right direction. The athletes competing not only get to enjoy the same facilities but now have the convenience of easier access and mobility throughout the park. I cannot speak on the Paralympians behalf, but I can only imagine what a difference it must make from a physical standpoint for everything to be just a little bit closer. Olympic Park will also be able to hold over 70,000 visitors at a time to first hand witness records being broken, historical moments and intense battles to get on the podium.

What has made Sochi so accessible is the split between venues being held between two clusters. There are both coastal and mountain venues that have been designated as the select areas for particular sports to take place. The coastal venue includes more level facilities such as an ice dome, arena, and curling center while the mountain venue will host all skiing , bobsled, and downhill sports. The two are only separated by roughly thirty minutes to make travel easier on all spectators and each contains an Olympic village of their own.

The Sochi 2014 games should be incredible from a sports perspective but I believe it is going to make a big mark for the Paralympics. I think this year’s winter games will be making a statement that the Paralympics deserve to be considered more in the process of putting the games together. At the end of the day these athletes are also representing their country and deserve to be treated with equal respect and consideration. We have less than five months to go before skiers hit the slopes and skaters hit the ice, be a part of history and start thinking about the 2014 Paralympic games in Sochi!

To check out some more information on Sochi 2014 check out the following link!

http://www.sochi2014.com/en/games/places/objects/sea/

AND

Be sure to check out some of the U.S. slope starts

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w04wU46XwRk

Erika Schmid

A Fresh Perspective on the Special Olympics

Let’s take a second and think back to elementary school, middle school or even high school. There was always the kid that would be unfairly treated or in certain cases, made fun of because him/her was different from everyone else. There was no rhyme or reason for it, we’re all still people. The kids who had a given disability or disorder, whatever it may be often times couldn’t participate in sports like others could. Occasionally you would see someone against all odds, participating in a varsity sport. My high school had a disabled girl who was on the varsity cheerleading team, cheered at the basketball and football games and took part in competition just like everyone else. Those are the stories that warm everyone’s heart. With that being said, it’s not everyday that you’re going to see someone be able to compete at a varsity level in a given sport, it’s just not always feasible.

There once was a time where those who suffered from a disorder or had a certain disability were out of luck when it came to sports. That was until the Special Olympics have come into play and created opportunities for everyone. Since the first games were held in 1968, the Special Olympics have grown to include 4.2 million athletes in over 150 different countries. The athletes, all of whom have some sort of disability take part in the same sports that we have come to know and love in both the Winter and Summer Olympics. We all enjoy channeling those feelings of nationalism every four years while rooting on our fellow countrymen and women.

Similar to how the Olympics are conducted, the Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating between the winter and summer games. Those aren’t all it is though, the Special Olympics are held almost daily on a local basis and also feature various regional and national competitions. Take a second to think about it, there are those with disabilities who are out there competing in the sport or event they love each and every day. That alone takes a level of effort and dedication that some may not be able to truly comprehend what these athletes have to deal with a daily basis. It gives us a chance to sit back and truly appreciate everything we have in life, don’t take even the simplest things for granted.

Perhaps the mission statement posted on the Special Olympics website says it best as to how they can truly provide opportunities for anyone and everyone, both children and adults who are disabled in some way, shape or form. “The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community” (specialolympics.org). That quote really speaks to just how far the Special Olympics can go in changing the lives of various individuals. It provides them with a chance to compete in the sport they love, something that many of them may have once never thought possible.

Similar to what my partner, Erika Schmid posted earlier this week regarding the Paralympics, I am guilty as charged when it comes to thinking of what the Special Olympics are. Sure, I had heard the term but never really took the time to understand just what they can do for those with disabilities. I also didn’t realize that some form of the Special Olympics is held on a daily basis while we go through the constant movement of daily life. It’s well worth taking a few minutes to appreciate what these athletes are doing, fighting against all odds and overcoming various obstacles to compete in an Olympic sport.

-Joe Fitzhenry

My Initial Thought, Forever Changed-

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While I hate to admit it, my initial perceptions of the Paralympics were entirely based on the visible. I associated the organization with a naive combination of words that included wheelchair, prosthetic and handicap. I failed to see that the Paralympics represent an amazing event in the sporting industry unlike anything else I have seen before. The athletes who participate in over twenty different sports are overcoming adversity in categories that include but are not limited to mobility disabilities, amputations, blindness, and cerebral palsy.

I think a lot of people do not understand that one of the most important elements of the Paralympics is competition. The athletes are presented with challenges but they want us to look past them and instead focus on the competitive spirit that is rooted in each and every one of them. They want to be seen as equals to non-disabled athletes who are known throughout the world and are role models to millions of kids. Those involved in the Paralympics are extraordinary athletes who are competing at a very high level and do not have the support they deserve.

The Paralympics has seen great growth since its creation in 1948 with new sports and more athletes due to an increase in competitive categories but by no means are they on equal footing with the Olympics. The accomplishments and records that have been set by these athletes represent achievements that hardly anyone has probably heard of. When taking this into account I cannot understand why there is hardly any television coverage and such a huge gap in funding compared to the Olympics.

Just as many people across the world, I love watching the Olympics but the lack of attention the Paralympics receives seems wrong. When looking at the adversity these athletes face I can only be amazed at the internal and external strength each one of them possesses. My initial thought about the Paralympics could not have been more wrong, and I am forever changed. If I were to go back I would replace my original three words with determination, strength and heart. I hope that this blog can spread awareness to help people realize just how incredible the Paralympics are and potentially assist the International Paralympic Committee in gaining support.

– Erika Schmid