Sailors Step up to Help Special Olympics Athletes
(March 12, 2010)
|WASHINGTON (NNS - March 6. 2010) -- Volunteers gathered at a
Hyattsville, Md. bowling alley Feb. 25 for the chance to
help D.C. Special Olympics hold a bowling tournament.
The more than 40 volunteers, all military service members,
encouraged the athletes with high fives, coaching tips and
cheering regardless of whether the athlete knocked down all
the pins or none.
Olivia Hunter, regional community service program
coordinator for Naval District Washington (NDW) said that
the Navy has been supporting D.C. Special Olympics for
several years and the fact that the tournament is held
during the week, places the Navy in a key position in which
to help with the event.
"Naval District Washington is very dedicated to the
community and this is the kind of project that cannot
operate without the support of volunteers," Hunter said.
"Our active duty service members are able to participate
during the week to support this event because it is a
command sponsored program."
For at least one of the Navy volunteers the chance to help
out carried extra significance.
Chief Hospital Corpsman Scott Thrasher, part of a group of
volunteers with the Bureau of Medicine, (BUMED) and Surgery
Chief Petty Officers Association, said that his step-sister
is a challenged athlete living in a group home in Wyoming
and has been a participant in Special Olympics for 20 years.
"If it were not for volunteers from BUMED and the other
naval organizations then [D.C. Special Olympics] would not
be able to put on these events," Thrasher said.
Tom Kling, senior director for programs and sports for
Special Olympics in the District of Columbia, said that the
participation of the military services in their program
allows a larger pool of athletes to participate in these
"Without the military's help and assistance we couldn't
provide the opportunities for the over 485 athletes that are
in this competition over the course of three championship
days," Kling said. "Before we had their support, we could
have only had a competition for about 150 to 180 athletes at
one time and this support gives us the ability to not
eliminate people from the championship competition but to
include relatively everybody that has gone through the
training and met the minimum training requirements."
According to Kling, even if athletes had met the minimum
training requirements they might still have been cut from
the competition because the D.C. Special Olympics did not
have enough staff, space or volunteer support. With the
volunteer support of the U.S. Navy they were able to extend
the number of days of competition at a larger venue so they
could incorporate more athletes into the championship
competition, Kling said.
"With the number of volunteers here today I have coverage so
that each and every one of the athletes has the opportunity
to meet somebody new, have somebody who is dedicated to
providing a first-class competition experience and have
somebody who actually cares about their well-being," Kling
said. "Our athletes encounter on a daily basis not a
position of respect. They actually don't get any respect at
all because of their intellectual disability but when they
come here they are totally respected, not only as a person
but as an athlete so they can show off what their abilities
are, not what their disabilities are."
In addition to BUMED, the event was also supported by Fleet
Readiness Center, Mid-Atlantic and the U.S. Navy Ceremonial
Guard. Gunner's Mate 3rd Class Alex Rosengren, a member of
the U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, said the sign-up sheet for
volunteers at the event was filled within two hours of it
The Guard contributed 15 volunteers to the event, Fleet
Readiness Center, Mid-Atlantic supplied seven volunteers and
BUMED brought 10 chief petty officers, the most they could
fit in their vehicle. In addition Hunter said that service
members of the Marine Corp and Coast Guard were also
contributing their time to the event.
Anthony Sokenu, associate director of sports for D.C.
Special Olympics, spoke of the lasting effects that
volunteers take away from participating in their events.
"The benefits for the volunteers are the same as the
benefits for the staff. When you work with a Special
Olympian your idea of sports just totally changes and you
get to believe that anything is possible," Sokenu said. "We
have athletes of very low ability. In a sport or a
competition like this, you get to see low ability athletes
score high points, higher points than you or I if we were
By Darren Harrison
Naval District Washington Public Affairs
Navy News Service
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