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In 2016 Paralympics Games Rio de Janeiro, twin brothers participating in the World Triathlon Series moved the world through special deed. Johnny was leading with few laps to go before he slowed down and staggered near a water station. However, his brother Alistar who was competing for the second position against a South African, Henri Schoeman, deviated from the race, pulled his brother Jonny’s arm over his shoulders, and began pulling him along. When they reached the finishing line, Alistair pushed his brother crossing the line before him becoming second, which immediately collapsed and was rushed to seek medical care. This experience struck me to become a volunteer. These people’s lives are full of many challenges, but their attitude is to stay positive. Alistar hauls along his brother for close to half a mile and cheering him to complete the race. Being there to witness as the Paralympic athletes compete has inspired me to give more time to touch more lives. It made me aware that the labels we give people cannot limit our potential and understand people with disabilities have unique talents to compete at global events. The Paralympic Games was founded in 1968 and has helped everyone around the globe to understand people with disabilities deserve respect because they are important people in our society (McCoy, 2000). The Paralympic athletes could be our children, friends, and thus we should be there to share in the efforts and achievements. If we all did something to help those in need, we would have a better world have a greater sense of accomplishment. After participating as a volunteer in 2016 Paralympics, I wanted to encourage you to give your time in the next event to help them and contributed to something positive. In this paper, I will discuss the needs in Paralympics, ways you can help, benefits of volunteering and how you can become a volunteer.
Needs for Volunteers in Paralympics
The Olympic Games is considered one of the biggest events globally because of its ability to provide a high level of excitement, class and other social benefits to everyone involved (Kellett, 2008). Paralympics Games has grown over the years, so has the number of volunteers. In 2013, more than 4 million athletes participated in the Special Olympics worldwide. This was a 5 percent athlete growth rate from the previous year. Athletes participate in some competition from the country level to international level. In 2013, there were approximately 81, 129 competitions worldwide, the smallest program having 44 athletes, while the biggest had more than one million athletes (Special Olympics International, 2013). Moreover, the number of competitions that were traditionally organized has also grown and it is expected to continue. Despite the significant growth in Special Olympics, the program meets the need of a small percentage of these people with intellectual disabilities. Research shows that 1 percent of global population is in this category; however, the program has only managed to reach only 5 percent of them. Even in the United States where Special Olympics have existed for more than 48 years, only 13 percent of the groups have been involved with Special Olympics. Therefore, there is a potential to extend the program to additional people with intellectual disabilities.
The success of such a global program depends on its large number of volunteers. In fact, the 2012 Olympics in London had 70,000 volunteers, while the recent Rio had 50,000 volunteers. Special Olympics preparation requires a large number of people to ensure that it is successful. With the growing number of people with intellectual disabilities globally, a large number of people are required to assess, identify and coach these people. Due to their disability challenges, such preparation requires giving individual attention to participants. Because of the individual attention needed for each special athlete, there is always a need for more people to act as volunteers, coaches, and help in other areas as well. According to Kellet (2008), the experience of volunteering is Special Olympics are unlike any other form of engagement with the Olympics.
Help by Becoming a Volunteer
One of the most obvious ways an individual can get involved in the event is volunteering as Special Olympics coach. Coaches play a significant role not only in the sporting life but also in the everyday life of the participants. A coach can influence the development of sport0specific skill, sporting performance, and in the participant personal development and how they approach different aspects of life. Coaching can be challenging at times; however, it can also be a very satisfying role. The good thing is that a volunteer coach is not required to have worked as coach or participated in a particular sport. Any willing individual can access information on courses offered on the organizations website. They are required to undertake intense training for two months prior the competition. Volunteer coaches’ roles are training the athletes for competition; however, they must have completed the necessary training before they become Special Olympics coach. The website also offers guidance on how new coaches can receive guidance from experienced coaches. Coaches participating in the program must be at least 16 years of age.
If you don’t want to volunteer as a coach, there are others ways an individual can help. An individual can help by assisting with fundraising or help to organize events. This involves participating in the day-of event and such volunteers have no athlete supervisory responsibilities. Anyone is welcome to volunteers; however, one must be at least15 years and above unless accompanied by a parent. An individual can be involved in running the program such as Special Olympics in numerous ways. Participating as a volunteer in Special Olympics can last from one day to lifetime depending on your availability and commitment you want to make in the lives of athlete and the community.
Working with Special Olympics is Very Rewarding
No matter which role an individual play in the Special Olympics, the experience is great. As a coach, the instructions and support you give to the participants are imperative. You can assist them acquire both social and athletic skills. The program offers an opportunity for the participants to interact with others and this gives them a sense of belonging. It helps to improve the athletes’ social skills by meeting new people. The athletes also learn development and life skills that may help them beyond sports and thus improve their quality of life. By providing a social network for athletes, coaches, volunteers, the program makes a huge difference to the lives of athletes. Research shows that about 80% of athletes are now self-confident, have higher self-esteem, and have a sense of belonging after participating in Special Olympics (Siperstein et al., 2005).
In fact, athletes develop large networks of friends, are more likely make friends with teammates, and share their experiences. The program benefits us all; indeed it has a positive effect on how the family relates with their athlete. I was motivated to participate in the event by a desire to be helpful, meet new people, to participate in an international event, and also gain and share knowledge with those involved. In the United States, Athletes family members reported that participating in Special Olympics has helped them to spend more time together as well as in the number of collective activities. Working with Special Olympics was one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. The desire and passion of the Paralympic athletes was inspiring as I witnessed their win and effort, and this has changed me through interactions with them and learned to value their extraordinary capacities. In other words, the Paralympic experience encouraged me to give more of my time to those in need. I learned how to appreciate the advantages I have and the importance of being optimistic and caring for those around me. Most importantly, l learned about the amazing people that compete in the program and the satisfaction that comes with helping others. Lastly, I made friends with amazing people from different parts of the world.
How to Volunteer in the Special Olympics
In the United States, the number of people with intellectual disabilities has continued to grow, and only about 5 percent of them participate in Paralympic Games. Therefore, more people should volunteer in coaching and performing other activities to ensure that more people with intellectual disabilities where they can feel respected and accepted by providing them with an opportunity of becoming productive citizens. This is your chance to take the step of getting involved with Special Olympics. For details on how you can participate, you can visit the program website and select an activity that you can help. One can select depending on their work schedule depending on the amount of time you want to commit. The most important thing is to become involved in whatever amount time that is convenient for you and make a change to these people. Volunteering in Special Olympics is one of the most selfless works that not only help in the games, but also provide an opportunity for volunteers to grow.
It is clear that each one of us can become involved in the Paralympic Games in some ways either as a coach or as a volunteer. You never know how many hearts you can touch by offering a little amount of your time. The paper has highlighted the need for the Special Olympics volunteers such as the increasing number of people with intellectual disabilities that calls for a large corps of the volunteer. The paper has also indicated how an individual can help by becoming a volunteer and numerous benefits that come with volunteering for Special Olympics, and the steps an individual can take to get involved. I encourage everyone to volunteer for the upcoming event and help those in needs. The fulfillment and happiness associated with such involvement are worth sacrifices. Special Olympic program participants felt a sense of “belonging” to a particular group, which contributed positively to their experiences. That sense of “belonging” lessened a feeling of isolation and this has contributed to the quality of their experience. If you can help, other people experience high self-esteem, social skills and make new friends by becoming involved in the program. This program has been the voice of people with intellectual disabilities by raising awareness about their needs and capability to the world. It seems clear there are positive effects are universal to all people, both those with disabilities and those without.
- Kellett, P. (2008). “Volunteerism and the Paralympic Games.” In K. Gilbert & O.J. Schantz (Eds.), The Paralympic Games: Empowerment or Side Show. Maidenhead, UK: Meyer & Meyer, pp.176-183.
- McCoy, D. (2000). The history of Special Olympics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Siperstein, G.N., Harada, C.M., Parker, R.C., Hardman, M. L. & McGuire, J. (2005). A Comprehensive Study of Special Olympics Programs in the United States. A Special Report for Special Olympics International. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston/Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center.
- Special Olympics International (2013). Demographics. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://resources.specialolympics.org/Topics/Research/Program_Research_Toolkit/Demographics.aspx