On Saturday, April 11, schools and care centers from all over South Central Iowa arrived at Graceland University to participate in the Special Olympics. Over 200 athletes of all ages and abilities participated in events including the softball throw, standing and running long jumps, swimming events, and running and walking races.
The event would not have been possible without Graceland student volunteers, adding up to over 200! Most volunteers came from Graceland football, men’s soccer, women’s and men’s volleyball, wrestling, and golf, as well as volunteers from specific classes, or members of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. Volunteers helped in a number of positions, like working the concessions stand, escorting athletes from their teams to their event, cheering, timing the races, or working with a specific team all day as a friend and liaison, among other roles. Volunteers and athletes enjoyed a free hot dog lunch, as well as a sunny day of playing sports and spectating.
Whitney Croll, Graceland University cheerleader, attended the event to cheer on the athletes. She says her favorite part was watching the podium where ribbons were awarded. “The athletes who got first place were so happy! They were raising their arms above their heads and doing happy dances, and it was so fun to see!” Whitney shares, “It was interesting to see how different the track and field events are from what I’m used to. I love how they’re set up to accommodate everyone, like how there is a 50 meter dash and a 50 meter walk.”
A football player who attended the event, Kevin Goic, volunteered as an escort. His job was to lead athletes from their teams to their events, from the events to the winner’s platform, and then back to their teams. This gave Kevin lots of time to connect with a number of athletes. He says, “It was so cool how they looked up to us and we were able to brighten their day. One girl told me all the way to her event that she was going to lose, and when she got first place she was so happy that she started to cry with happiness. Another girl took a picture with a couple of us volunteers and said that every year she takes a picture and puts it up on her walls. It was great to know we made that big of an impression.”
Stephanie Herman, Graceland University volleyball player, worked the tattoo booth. She says, “It was so funny how the same people kept coming back to the booth to get multiple tattoos! I got a lot of good experience talking to the athletes and congratulating them on winning. I loved seeing how excited they were to show off their ribbons.” Stephanie also heard two athletes discussing an upcoming race. They agreed that if they were both in the lead, they wanted to cross the finish line together and make it a tie. This story embodies the Special Olympics, a place where everyone is safe to play their sport and to celebrate. There’s no place quite as welcoming.