More than 100 warm hearts from Mercyhurst braved the cold Feb. 7 for the Erie City Special Olympics at Peek’n Peak Resort in Clymer, N.Y.
Much like the official Olympic Games, the event began with an opening ceremony, complete with a torch lighting and a reciting of the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Following the lighting, more than 40 Special Olympians from Erie High School and Strong Vincent Middle School were paired up with a Mercyhurst student and practiced for the alpine and cross country skiing events.
“I was a buddy at the event, which means that I was paired up with an athlete and got to spend the day with her,” said freshman Samantha O’Connell, an Early Childhood Education and Special Education major. “I made sure that she got to her race, had the right equipment and, most importantly, cheered her on. We also did crafts later in the day and just hung out, which was a lot of fun.”
Because there were more than twice the number of volunteers as there were Olympians, each child was matched with a small group of students to practice with and cheer them on.
This is the second time that Mercyhurst has sent a group of students this large to the event. Volunteers were organized by Susan Johnson, Education Department chair, and Cole Lowe, senior Spanish Education major.
Mercyhurst students enjoyed the opportunity to work with the Olympians. The event was not only fun, but it provided professional experience.
“I had a fantastic experience,” said freshman Lucienne Belleau, a Spanish Education major. “Watching the smile on my buddy’s face when he crossed the finish line after skiing for the first time made my day, and I bet all of the other volunteers felt the same way.”
O’Connell shared a similar sentiment.
“I loved getting to work with my athlete, Kristina, and getting to see the smile on her face when she finished her races or even when we were just talking,” O’Connell said.
Overall, student volunteers and Special Olympians alike seemed to enjoy their experiences at this year’s Games and are already awaiting next year’s festivities.
“I will most definitely be volunteering for this event again. I enjoyed every moment,” said Belleau. “Everyone who was involved, both volunteers and participants, made this day a rewarding and unforgettable experience that I would be happy to help out with again in the future.”