SpO Director Hannah Durin Chats with The Villanovan


The 2017 Special Olympics Management Team. Durnin is pictured in the bottom left.  

Song-Binh Ngo

Each November, the University transforms for three days to host the largest student-run Special Olympics in the world. This year’s “Fall Fest” will take place from Fri. Nov.  10 to Sun. Nov. 12. The following is an intervew with festival director Hannah Durnin, a senior nursing major, about the SpO commitee’s prep and her favorite SpO moments. 

The Villanovan (TV): What have you and the committees been doing to prepare for Fall Fest in the past few months? 

Hannah Durnin (D): “We started preparing for Fall Fest in February. We’ve had to spend a lot of time planning the logistical things, especially with the construction that is currently going on around campus. Because of the construction, we have to figure out different places where the events can take place. We have been working on bringing different aspects to Fall Fest that every competitor can enjoy. We have also been working towards building the movement of inclusion with different fundraisers and events, such as the unified games, in order to spread the message of inclusion not only during this weekend, but 365 days a year. “

TV: Can you tell me a little bit about the logistics of the weekend?  

D: This year, we are expecting approximately 1,200 athletes but it also depends how many qualify in the qualifiers, which will take place in East Stroudsburg. That’s the qualifiers for the athletes to compete in Villanova’s Fall Fest. We have athletes representing numerous different counties from here to western Pennsylvania, as far as Erie County. We have athletes representing 39 counties in total this year. We’ve also recently accepted our 100 local program hosts and 35 volunteer coordinators.

TV: What are the key events leading up to Fall Fest? 

D: In March, September and October, we host unified events, during which athletes and their able-bodied peers can compete alongside each other. Unified events are great for finding common ground on the field and on the courts. We also host fundraisers that raise money as well as raise awareness. We recently hosted a disabilities panel [see pg. 3] as well, which was an event during which students from LEVEL, an athlete from Special Olympics as well as other Villanova professors and parents came and spoke about both visible and invisible disabilities and how to better understand the individuals who have the. We recently hosted our Strides 5K and will be hosting our airport shuttle fundraiser which is a great event because it benefits both Special Olympics and Villanova students who need rides to the airport. In October, we will be hosting A Capella-SpOlooza. We will also have a campaign on Spread the Word to End the Word which is all about spreading awareness.

TV: What is different about this year’s Fall Fest?

D: Definitely the most different thing about this year’s Fall Fest is not having the Pavilion and also all of the construction going on around campus. We will be having some of our events at the Agnes Irwin School down the road, the Shipley School which is in Bryn Mawr, as well as the Marple Sports Arena. This year, we have six off-campus venues and we will not be having five on-campus venues as we usually do. Despite this, having more off-campus venues this year gives us opportunities to work with other people in the Villanova community which is cool because we can bring our Special Olympics traditions to nearby communities, get the local schools involved and spread our message of inclusion to more people in the community.

TV: What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Fall Fest?

D: I am most excited for the athletes to be on campus again and for them to experience all of the different aspects of Fall Fest, like the events, decorations and O-Town. I’m excited to have them bring their amazing spirit to our campus. It’s also very cool that some of the events at Fall Fest are qualifiers for the Special Olympics USA Games which will take place in Seattle in 2018 as well as the World Special Olympics Games which will take place in Dubai in 2019. Having Villanova’s Special Olympics, a smaller scale event, translate into a world scale is definitely amazing. I’m excited for the athletes to get that world class experience and to be able to ensure that they have the best ability to qualify for what they want to qualify for in the future.

 TV: What is your favorite part of Fall Fest? 

D: My favorite part of Fall Fest is the torch run. The torch run is a unified half marathon that starts in Philly. Many law enforcement officials from the Greater Philadelphia Area come out to join the run. The half marathon starts at the steps of the Art Museum and there are hand offs at each mile. Once the runners reach the last mile, the athletes participating in Fall Fest join in and they run through campus which symbolizes the beginning of Fall Fest. To see everyone involved running through the quad with the band playing and the students and cheerleaders cheering is an exciting thing to see and definitely sets the mood for the entire weekend. 

TV: What role do you think the Villanova community plays during Special Olympics weekend?

D: The Villanova coming out and volunteering is what we need most! We really would love to have them in the crowds, cheering on these athletes. The Villanova community is definitely integral to not only this weekend, but this movement as a whole. They have such an impact when they get to cheer on and interact with the athletes who are so excited to have them.

TV: What events are coming up to benefit SpO weekend?

D: A Capella SpOlooza is coming up in October and the airport shuttle van fundraiser is taking place right before fall break. This year, we’re also selling Special Olympics t-shirts and those will be available online after fall break. The members on the Special Olympics committees are also doing individual fundraising by reaching out to family members and friends. We’re all hoping that in this cause that we care so much about, we can give the athletes the best experience that they can have.