Once a week during the spring semester, several McDaniel College swimmers make their way down to Harlow Pool to help coach Special Olympics athletes who are preparing for their swimming season. I consider myself lucky to be a part of this group of swim team members.
I have ardently believed in this program since the mighty Carroll County Tigers – our local special Olympics team – started practicing at our pool four years ago, my freshman year. Now a senior, I’ve been thinking about exactly why volunteering to help these fellow athletes has been such a rewarding experience – not only for me, but for my teammates on the McDaniel College team who choose to do this with me.
It was easy to think of why I started helping every Sunday with the Carroll County Tigers.
My older sister, Jessica, competed in several Special Olympics back home in Turlock, and we both loved being part of it. It was a highlight of her year. I remember watching her compete in the local games with a smile on her face that would last all day and give her fond memories for the rest of the year. So when I found in Maryland with an opportunity to help Special Olympics athletes, I didn’t want to pass it up.
As the years progressed, however, I found myself volunteering – and encouraging my teammates to volunteer – for an entirely different reason. I found the Special Olympics had a special property to it that few other activities in our day-to-day life possess: the ability to generate happiness.
And it’s not a passing happiness, either, but in my case a true, genuine happiness that my teammates and I were privileged to see on the faces of athletes that we helped coach every Saturday.
It was this quality, I realized, that kept my teammates and I coming back every week of every spring semester for four years. How often do opportunities come along that allow us to make someone’s day truly better – truly happier?
Chris Anderson, a long-time athlete with the Carroll County Tigers, said the Special Olympics “is fun to do … with lots of friends and lots of sports!” Asked the same question, his teammate Richard Roebuck said Special Olympics practice “gives me great energy and gives your body a great workout!”
These athletes put in simple words what I could never express about the wonderful nature of this shared experience, and this remarkable ability to make the lives of dedicated athletes better.
The amazing part is that by simply showing up and lending a hand, my teammates and I became a part of something so much bigger.
The perfect opportunity to see these amazing athletes in action is Saturday at John F. Kennedy School in Modesto, starting at 9 a.m. Those who do well wil advance to the Northern California Summer Games at UC Davis on June 23.
More amazing is that it really is that easy – after filling out a few forms, anyone can be a part of this experience. It’s as simple as finding a local chapter and signing up. In no time, you can help generate just a little more genuine happiness in the world.
Brian Austin is the son of Bee reporter Nan Austin. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.
To find a Special Olympics near you, visit www.specialolympics.org/Sections/Get_Involved/Get_Involved.aspx. In Northern California, the site is https://www.sonc.org/get-involved/become-volunteer; there are volunteer forms available on the site.