Everyone's a Winner


A student’s volunteer experience with the New York State Special Olympics leaves her hoarse and happy. by Jessica Bachiochi ’09

“Show us what you got,” said Laura Graby ’09 to Special Olympics athlete Steven MacPhail as he stepped up to the line with a soccer ball at his feet. “I’m going to show everybody what I got,” MacPhail replied.

Before timekeeper Lindsey Nichols ’09 told him to go, he raised his hand and said, “Hold on a second.” He unzipped the black fanny pack strapped around his waist and pulled out a pair of sunglasses. He put them on and turned to Nichols. “I’m all set,” he told her.

A few moments later MacPhail dribbled the ball across the grass and over a line into the box at the end, where he trapped the ball as quickly as he could. “Great job!” I congratulated him. He looked at me and the other volunteers working the men, women, boys, and girls soccer skills station. I could tell he’d done this before. McPhail was a veteran at the New York State Special Olympics Fall Games, so he knew exactly what he had to do for his event. But this was my first experience at the games. Along with about 40 other IC students, led by physical therapy major Jill Cadby ’09, I traveled up to Rochester to volunteer for the 38th annual fall games.

Sunglasses weren’t the only secret weapon used by the soccer athletes. The competitors’ attitudes and strategies were inspiring and creative.

One competitor sang Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” as he carried the ball. “There she was just a-walking down the street,” he sang, while keeping each step with the beat. Another athlete kicked the ball as hard as he could to the end, sprinted to catch it, and trapped it in the box.

No matter the individual plan, every athlete received either a ribbon or a medal. And when their names were called, the celebrations and the cheers could have competed with any that met the gold medalists in Beijing this past summer. A soccer skills athlete, who told us to call him “Thunderstorm,” screamed and slammed his fists up in the air in excitement when a volunteer put a medal around his neck.

“It’s not a competition with them. They are all winners,” Cadby says. This was Cadby’s third trip to the Special Olympics, and she had more volunteers from IC this year than ever. She hopes the tradition will grow and continue even after she graduates.

“Everyone lost their voices,” Cadby says of the volunteers. “They were cheering so much.”

I can attest that it’s impossible not to scream. When I saw the athletes competing, no matter what sport, I couldn’t help but want to be part of it. I was especially touched when at lunch a forward on the Sachem Strikers soccer team said he would score a goal for me. His teammate assured me, “If he tells a girl he’s going to do something, he’ll do it.”

I hope I did inspire him. But he didn’t really need me. Like all the athletes, his love of participation and competition was inspiration plenty.

Jessica Bachiochi ’09 was a writing intern with ICView in fall 2008.