Special Olympics Athletes Celebrate Victory and Friendship
Alex Masters, a Special Olympics athlete of 20 years, stood on the basketball court in Penn State's White Building Friday afternoon with a look of intense concentration.
The ball he’d thrown moments before flew as if in slow motion through the air, before landing on the lip of the basket. With a swish and a thud, the ball fell through the net and hit the floor. Masters’ look of concentration erupted into a smile.
“We won! We won!” he called to his teammates and friends in the stands, running up and down the court, his fists held high in triumph.
Scenes like this could be found across Penn State and State College Friday, as the 45th Annual Special Olympics of Pennsylvania (SOPA) continued with a second day of competition. With events in everything from swimming and basketball to equestrian and bowling, the Special Olympics offered something for young and old athletes with a wide range of learning and intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics PA CEO Matthew Aaron says these games are all about empowering a group of individuals who are often marginalized for their disabilities.
“These athletes all too often are told no and that they can’t do things by society and their peers,” Aaron says. “The Special Olympics is an organization that says yes, they can.”
This empowerment was clear across State College Friday, as athletes from every county in Pennsylvania competed. Many Special Olympics athletes in town this weekend have been involved in with Special Olympics for decades, like Masters or tennis player Vince Malloy.
Though this is only Malloy’s third year at the State College summer games, he has competed in various Special Olympics events for the past 30 years. He's competed in the World Games twice (in equestrian events and cycling) and says its not winning medals that keeps him coming back. It’s his relationship with his teammates.
“When we compete in practice, we always try to push each other,” Malloy says.
Masters, who embraced his teammates after his victory lap around the basketball court, agrees.
“I enjoy the Olympics because I get to play with my teammates,” he says. “They really care about me, and they keep me motivated.”
Brooke Corby has been involved in the Special Olympics since 1988, competing in basketball, soccer and gymnastics. When she injured her knee several years ago, she feared she would no longer be able to compete in the games.
Told by her doctor that bowling would not twist or harm her knee, Corby bowled through physical therapy and competed in the games today.
Aaron says these scenes of victory, determination, and camaraderie are the true rewards of the Special Olympics.
“When you come to an event like this, you’ll see joy personified over and over,” he says.