Students take part in Special Weekend

Melissa Leach

For one weekend, the vacant fields of Villanova become fields of true competition, compassion and glory. Every athlete tastes the spirit of victory while every volunteer, coach and spectator has the privilege to witness sportsmanship in its purest form. Villanova’s annual Fall Festival of Special Olympics, held last weekend, was a celebration of the efforts of boys and girls and men and women who have developed their talents and shared a lifetime lesson of what it takes to be a true competitor.

This year marks the 14th consecutive year Villanova has hosted the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival. Over 1,000 athletes along with 300 coaches and 2,000 volunteers participated in this year’s event.

The games are a collective effort of year-round planning and organization by the Special Olympics Committee. The committee plans all aspects of the event from publicity and registration to food. Members are carefully selected from hundreds of hopefully applicants. According to the 2001 SOPA fact sheet, over 25,000 children and adults with mental retardation or closely related developmental disabilities participated in 300 local, sectional and state events. Athletes range in age from 8 to 80 and are of all ability levels.

Volunteers from the surrounding community and student body gain an extraordinary experience as they take time out to support individuals and teams to the finish line. “I look forward to Special Olympics each fall for many reasons, but especially for the compassion and comaraderie that the athletes show towards each other,” said Brianna Grande, junior nursing major. “For that weekend I can step out of my own problems and just enjoy the atmosphere at Villanova. It is wonderful to see their efforts after working so hard all year-round and it is their hearts of gold, warm souls, and smiling faces that keep me coming back each year.”

Everyone who participates in Special Olympics walks away a winner. There are no losers, for the sheer ability to compete is worthy of a medal. “Special Olympics athletes remind us to live each day to the fullest and to love unconditionally,” said Jess Nowakowskis, director of human resources for the Special Olympics Committeee, “By volunteering for Special Olympics, one has the opportunity to meet some amazing people and to become a part of the true spirit of competition.”

It does not matter the time commitment one gives to the organization, for any is time well spent. “What is really great is that there are so many different biases and stereotypes on campus and this seems to be the only weekend where all of that is blown out of the water,” said Shara Mahoutchian publicity chair for the Special Olympics.

Every event is a challenge and every step, stride and goal is a victory. According to Special Olympics Pennslyvania, a study done by Yale University confirmed that Special Olympics contributes to the physical, social and psychological development of people with mental retardation. Through successful experiences in sports, they gain confidence and build a positive self-image that carries over into the classroom, the home, the job and the community. For every applause, there is a smile. For every fall there is someone to help pick him or her up. For every goal scored and every finish line crossed, there is a high-five waiting. Special Olympics comes to Villanova once a year. Once a year the University joins together to support these athletes in their pursuit of victory. Once a year, we celebrate camraderie and competition at its best.

These athletes walk away with lifetime achievements and senses of self-worth that they otherwise would not know. For a lifetime, the volunteers can celebrate the spirit that comes from helping others, for that is the truest victory of them all.