By Domenic F. Fraboni
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a group of people that excluded no one, yet accepted everyone? A community that celebrated not only success, but also the amount of effort and courage that someone put into their attempt? A community that allows failure, takes those challenges head on, and emerges stronger and more apt for success because of that failure? Well, I think I have found that community. In fact, the whole Mayo Clinic Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, joined by more trainees from Mayo Graduate School (MGS), have incorporated themselves into the Rochester Flyers Special Olympic community . They have put blood, sweat, and tears (and lots of laughs and smiles) into a season of track and field.
This year’s season finally ran itself out at Minnesota’s 2016 Special Olympic Summer Games. This all-inclusive celebration of talent, effort, and camaraderie was held the weekend of June 23-25 at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, MN. The summer games are not just an end of the year festivity for the Track and Field athletes. In fact it is a combination of over 1,500 Special Olympic Athletes, 100 Unified Partners (those who are not Special Olympic (S/O) Athletes themselves but compete on combined teams with S/O athletes – possibly another whole post in itself), and around 620 amazing coaches and volunteers from around the state (que Mayo Clinic graduate students) that compete in volleyball, gymnastics, and tennis. Convoluted and run-on sentence aside, all of these athletes competed in their respective sport this weekend and ended their seasons at a Rio-esque ceremony (minus a few hundred thousand people and the possible threat of Zika infested pests). Now let’s get back to those Flyers.
Beginning last fall, a handful of Mayo Clinic students helped out with Rochester Flyer Basketball. This year nearly 20 students from Mayo School of Health Sciences (MSHS) and MGS made it to the blacktop to help out the runners, jumpers, walkers, and wheelers on the Flyer Track and Field Team. One such student, and a newcomer to S/O involvement (She contacted me after reading a previous S/O blog post. hint… hint…), was Kirsten Coffman.
She and her boyfriend, Steven, were the only Mayo Clinic volunteer coaches to make both the Regional and State Track Meets. By the way, state was held at the Summer Games in Apple Valley. Kirsten hit the ground running (ha. punny) at the beginning of the Track Season and has loved it since.
Kirsten is a fifth year graduate student in the MGS Biomedical Engineering and Physiology track. Kirsten told me she has never seen a group of athletes (or people in general for that matter) with as positive and enduring energy as she saw at the S/O Summer Games. According to Kirsten, one of the days she was there was just a pure scorcher. A sun burning and sweat running down your forehead kind of scorcher. The thing that Kirsten found really inspiring was that, while all of the volunteers and coaches began slinking into the shade as the day drew on, the S/O athletes remained track-side to continue cheering on their teammates. Wait, scratch that, they were not just cheering on their teammates; they were cheering on ALL of the athletes. In ALL of the events. Kirsten went on to say that she really started to get close to some of the athletes she coached. “I actually started feeling like pretty good friends with some of the athletes toward the end of the season,” Kirsten said. “Actually, they are probably better than real friends because you know they won’t judge you.” That line to me says it all. In one small quote, it shows me the real spirit of the Minnesota Summer Games and Special Olympics as a whole. No judgment. No reservations. No hate. Areas I think all humanity could take a quick 101 course in right now.
So… I would love to tell you who won all the gold medals, how many medals the
Flyers brought home, which teams topped the podiums the most across the weekend. The reality is, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not saying the athletes aren’t competitive, not at all. I’m not saying they don’t know when they have a good or bad day in their events. I’m definitely not saying that those who have the honor of winning gold for their team don’t deserve a good rah rah and pat on the back. I’m saying that everyone deserves that rah rah and pat on the back. Here at the Summer Games, everyone gets just that and gets it from everyone else. I can say that I am more than glad I’m a part of the Rochester Flyer family. Come join us!
“Let me win. But if I cannot Win, let me be brave in the attempt.” ~The Special Olympics athlete’s oath first introduced by Eunice Kennedy Shriver at the inaugural S/O international games in 1968.