Special Olympian Wins Seven Silver Medals
Michael Paulinski stood behind the Bigler Field bleachers Saturday afternoon with a smile as bright as the sun beaming down on Penn State’s campus.
The Montgomery County native was going back home with some extra hardware around his neck.
The 33-year-old with nearly 25 years of experience in the Special Olympics competed in six different gymnastics events.
Paulinski takes his work seriously and the results are impressive. He won a silver medal in each six of his events as well as a seventh medal for overall competition. Paulinski says his favorite gymnastics events are the floor, rings, vault, and pommel horse.
How Paulinski got involved in gymnastics is a story in itself.
Paulinski started off doing basketball and some other sports but one day told his dad that he wanted to try something different.
“It was always really hot in the gym where we played basketball. So one day, I told my dad that I wanted to do gymnastics in the White Building because there was air conditioning there,” Paulinski said.
Cold air was not the only motivating factor though.
“There’s a lot of girls in gymnastics,” he says.
In his third year of gymnastics competition, Paulinski has been a welcome addition to the team that's coached by Meg Jones.
“Michael just walked up to me one day and asked if he could join the team,” said Jones. “I said sure, and look at him now, he’s winning medals in everything.”
Paulinski’s success and confidence was symbolic of another great weekend for Special Olympics Pennsylvania CEO Matt Aaron. Aaron wants to see athletes evolve as people in addition to performing well in their events. Several gold medal winners will be entered into a drawing for the chance to compete in national games next summer in New Jersey.
“Overall I’m quite pleased,” said Aaron following Saturday’s closing ceremonies.
“We were a little worried about the weather at first. It rained on Thursday which made us push back a few events, but the weather cooperated the rest of the weekend. It can be hit or miss, but a day like today is perfect. It’s not so hot that athletes stand a chance of becoming dehydrated, but it’s not cold either.
“We didn’t get any complaints from athletes, and it’s really rare that we do. That’s also a testament to all of the volunteers who worked behind the scenes allowing the athletes to do what they do best.”
Aaron has overseen the Pennsylvania games for five years since coming from the Special Olympics main headquarters in Washington, D.C. He says it is not easy for him to pick an all-time favorite memory since new ones occur every year, but two come to mind this year.
The first involves Hall of Fame inductee Greg Focht carrying the torch at the closing ceremonies.
“Greg’s such a positive guy. He makes everyone around him happy, and it’s so nice to see him have all of the success he’s had recently.”
The other one involves Dan Cobb, a tennis player from Chester County who has also taken on additional responsibility as part of a management team.
Cobb is part of Aaron’s continued effort to give athletes a voice in logistical matters and not just sports.
As for Paulinski, his favorite part of the weekend is pretty straightforward.
“I like meeting people from all the different counties. It’s cool to see people come here from all over the place.”
Paulinski will head back home to the local YMCA where he has been employed for the past dozen years. Aaron is not far behind Paulinski. He plans to make a quick pit stop at the Berkey Creamery before hitting the road.
Another year of the Special Olympics in Happy Valley is in the books, and everyone is leaving happy.