For the fifth straight year, students and volunteers helped host the Special Olympics at SVSU.
More than 300 athletes from Saginaw County participated Friday, March 30, in the Area 22 Special Olympics spring games at the Ryder Center.
Carol VanArsdale, the Special Olympics outreach coordinator and school liaison, worked with public schools and SVSU to help recruit volunteers and ultimately helped organize the event.
According to special education junior Stephanie Cyrus, there were several volunteers who showed up to help participants during the games, including education, athletic training, nursing and occupational therapy majors.
“Each athlete (had) a one-on-one buddy whose responsibility is to be with them to support them,” Cyrus said. “I have volunteered as a one-on-one with athletes in the past, and I had an absolutely fantastic time.”
It is the job of the volunteers to go to each athlete’s event and cheer him or her on. In the past, there has been plenty of support from students through volunteering, advertising and monetary donations.
“This is a day all about the athletes,” said elementary education senior Kelsey Girardot. “This was my second year being involved in the Special Olympics and not once have I seen an athlete or volunteer not enjoying themselves.”
Events at the spring games included the 50-, 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes, the 200- and 400-meter walks, wheelchair races, walker races, the 25-yard walk, softball throw, shot put and standing long jump as well as freestyle and backstroke swimming, a new event this year.
“Basically, it’s our volunteers’ jobs to be positive support to the athletes,” Cyrus said. “I think it’s very important that we keep supporting this relationship between the spring games and the campus community.
“This is such a great experience for anyone and is definitely rewarding at the end of the day.”
This year has been especially notable for Cyrus because she is responsible for leading Cardinals for Special Olympics, a newly created registered student organization meant to support the local games.
“I was very eager to start something like this,” Cyrus said. “Having a student organization for the area games is definitely going to make things run smoothly when it comes to organizing the event in the future.”
Cyrus said the group has been successful this year thanks to the help of her board members: Maddie Bierlein, Kelly Spooner, Kaitlyn Rye and Kelsey Girardot.
“It’s definitely been a long and exhausting process to start this RSO, but we are finally at a good spot,” Cyrus said. “I could not have done it without the help of all the members and our adviser Gardner Umbarger.”
Cyrus said that it is important for SVSU to be involved in community activities such as the Special Olympics because it can be inspirational to others, and it shows that students and staff are dedicated to serving the community in which they live.
“Being a special education major, I know the importance of involving students with disabilities in a controlled and positive environment where they’re free to be themselves and have fun,” Cyrus said.
Girardot said that hosting the event is important for the volunteers and campus community, as well.
“I think it’s very important that SVSU is holding this event on campus,” Girardot said. “It gives us all a chance to see what we are truly blessed for and not take things for granted.”