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Special Olympics Shows That Everyone Can Win

More than a half-century ago, American philanthropist and a member of the Kennedy family Eunice Kennedy Shriver realized that when it comes to sports competitions, the playing field isn’t always a level one.

The Special Olympics mission is to empower athletes and break stereotypes surrounding people with disabilities. Most importantly, Special Olympics gives people with disabilities the opportunity to build confidence and friendships while inspiring their communities to believe that everyone can win. 

Laura Li is an event volunteer and coach who has been with the organization for 20 years.

“I think it’s so important just to know that everyone has purpose, everyone has value,” Li said. “I love that the organization really helps promote that and really works to build athletes up.” 

Michaela Darbyshire, Associate Director of Development for the Central Region in Southern Tier, began working for Special Olympics New York as a social media intern for a graduation requirement at Nazareth College. Heading into the position, she didn’t know anything about the organization, but soon after she got to know the athletes and realized that she could be a part of sharing their story, she was sold. 

Now Darbyshire organizes fundraisers, which are a very integral piece of the organization’s success. Not only does the organization rely on the funds to provide athletes these opportunities, but the relationship between the athletes and the volunteers has become a landmark of what it means to be a part of Special Olympics New York.   

“That’s why we’re so successful, because our athletes have such a positive light towards them that they just radiate off of,” Darbyshire said. “That once one person has an interaction with them, it kind of just spirals into greatness from there.” 

Darbyshire talking to the crowds of people at the Ithaca Polar Plunge. Source: Lucia Coutermarsh/IthacaWeek

Micheal Murray, state director of the powerlifting program, has been volunteering for Special Olympics New York for years. He is also on the law enforcement committee which has helped raise over $2 million this year. He has helped at countless fundraising events and understands the importance of volunteers.   

“It’s very important for them to show up, and once they come one time to volunteer, they wanna come to another,” Murray said. “It’s just the way the athletes are, you see everybody having fun and the importance of it, you get hooked on it.”  

The Ithaca Polar Plunge, organized by the southern tier of Special Olympics New York, is a fundraising event that leaves the body cold but the heart warm. Donators take a plunge into the freezing Cayuga waters to show support and spread awareness of the organization.

“It really comes down to the community making that big impact,” Darbyshire said. “We have some great sponsors down here who are really involved with the organization and show up to the plunge and volunteer at our State Games and get involved with our athletes.”

After going to other polar plunges, plunger Izzy Karpovich, like many other participants, had to come back for more.  

“I support it because I wanna make sure that everybody has the same opportunities and that they can have as much fun as possible doing what they wanna do,” Karpovich said. 

Participants waiting for the plunge to begin. Source: Lucia Coutermarsh/IthacaWeek

The Ithaca Polar Plunge exceeded its goal of $100,000 raising $105,484, which will help sponsor over 200 athletes for an entire sports season.  

“We’ve got athletes that started with us who wouldn’t even talk, that wouldn’t even look at us and now they’re global messengers,” Murray said. “It gives them a chance to be part of our community as they should be.”

The State Games will be held at Ithaca College from June 9 to June 11, and will depend on volunteers to operate. 

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