How Perspectives' Spring Special Olympics Season Took Off in 2021

By Sara Porcaro | Jun 15, 2021
Special Olympics, Volunteer, Disabilities, Rhode Island, COVID-19, Athletes, Sports, Social
Person-Centered Facilitator Kelsey Collins and Community Liaison Alexus Larney

Us New Englanders can agree: it's been hot out. Very hot for early June. But that hasn't stopped groups of fitness lovers from gathering at Wilson Park on one sunny day for Walk and Run Fitness or Cornhole--two sports new to this year's Special Olympics Rhode Island (SORI) spring lineup. While we're excited to see our athletes out enjoying in-person sports, again we're also grateful for the work SORI officials, Unified Partners, and Coaches have done to make it a safe, successful summer season, and that's why we're taking a look at the late spring season and the volunteers and athletes that made it happen!
No matter how we've stayed active during the pandemic--rolling out our yoga mats in the living room, hiking through our local Rhode Island parks, or signing in for virtual sports competitions--last year's spring and summer didn't quite look the way we're used to seeing it, to say the least. SORI, especially, hosted many of its competitions online, having athletes participate from the safety of home. While this kept the Special Olympics spirit alive, and was absolutely one of many social events athletes had to look forward to, the need to get out and see people face-to-face never left--and that's why the spring season's in-person practices and games are such a welcome change.
The volunteers who stepped up to be coaches and Unified Partners--community members who join the games with athletes as team members--are a large part of making the groups possible. With the need for volunteers this year, Perspectives professionals stepped up to the plate to help organize teams, locations, and times for weekly meet-ups of Perspectives teams, and they're a huge part of keeping practices safe, consistent, and most importantly, fun for all. They're enjoying the chance to help athletes get comfortable with doing sports in person again and encourage them to keep improving their skills.
"It was definitely tough at first," says Career Developer Arianna Bordeleau, also acting as this summer's Cornhole Coach. "People were nervous to get back out there. But as of early June, we could take the masks off if we're vaccinated, and everyone's relaxed. It's been so good for everyone to finally see each other again."
And that social focus--the simple joy of being able to see friends and get outside--is largely what the Walk/Run Fitness and Cornhole groups are about. Meeting in Wilson Park once a week, these two groups have been practicing their skills and improving their fitness together since early May. Everyone has the confidence to meet up and enjoy the spring Special Olympics season large in part because of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island's highly successful vaccination campaigns from earlier in the year, where many individuals in the I/DD community were able to get the protection they need to stay safe and jumpstart their return to the lives they love.
"There's no competition piece for Walk/Run fitness since it's a new sport and we're just getting back into things," says Community Liaison and Walk/Run Fitness Coach Alexus Larney, "and for some, they can't wait to do competitions again, but for everyone, it's good to just be outside and together."
"Doing Special Olympics virtually was rough," says athlete Matt, who is a regular competitor in golf, bowling, and other yearly pre-pandemic sports. "I missed being able to see my friends, especially with something like Special Olympics. I can't wait for bowling to come back!"
Especially since some individuals had kept up their sheltering-in-place for a long time, community connection is crucial for everyone now more than ever. The impact of isolating for so long has been heavy on us all, and double With future in-person competitions depending on the results of the spring and summer season, the fall games are on the minds of competitors, coaches, and partners alike, as is the chance to train hard and compete again. With so many new athletes, coaches, and Unified Partners this year, too, the teams and communities of friends are only growing bigger, with new participants joining each week. Even after Special Olympics' spring season ends, the summer in-person softball practices are just beginning, with games and plenty of competition on the way. And the option to continue Walk/Run or Cornhole as clubs are certainly on the table--as well as a few new potential clubs, too.
"This is the best thing I've done, and I'm so glad I decided to join," says Director of Employment Services and Assistant Cornhole Coach Adrienne Tipple, whose husband and daughter have also joined as Unified Partners. "A lot of this season's athletes are individuals we work with [in Employment Services], and it's so nice to hang out with them in the park and get to know them better in a different setting. As Director, I don't get to spend much time with individuals directly anymore, and this has been an awesome way to reconnect with everyone."
The summer is only just getting started, and everyone's all too eager to get back to the SORI fun they love. Already, the spring sports are a blast for everyone--a good marker of what's to come as the sunny weather makes the outdoors the place to be. There's no better place to practice our athletic abilities than outside in the sunshine, with our teammates to cheer us on, and we're wishing everyone the best as they continue to train for the upcoming games! Thank you to all our SORI coaches, partners, athletes, and officials for getting the games back out in the open in safe and fun ways for 2021!


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