Major sporting events like the Olympics stir up a certain camaraderie in people. The coordinators at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania understand this possibly better than those in London. “Special Olympics Pennsylvania uses sports as a catalyst to reveal the champion in all of us,” explains Director of Communications Nicole Jones.
Now in its 42nd year, SOPA continues to expand. “The growth of Special Olympics in Pennsylvania has been nothing short of phenomenal,” says Jones. She’s right — the number of participating athletes has gone from 135 in the first year to nearly 20,000 today. It’s not just an annual event, but rather a year-round training program that offers 22 Olympic-style sports. SOPA is free for all participants and their families, allowing everyone to join in the activities.
When the athletes aren’t in the midst of seasonal Olympics events, they’re taking part in the fundraisers and benefits that help keep SOPA free of charge. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is just one. Here, local officers and SOPA athletes run a torch from the Philadelphia Art Museum to Villanova University. Other fundraisers include the popular Polar Plunge and the Dream Ride. Of course these events help to keep SOPA running, but they also draw in more athletes, who are the heart of the organization.
Whether you’re an athlete or a volunteer, the Special Olympics are for everyone: “It is able to remove barriers and stigmas that people with intellectual disabilities face, to share with the community the gifts and talents of people with intellectual disabilities,” says Jones.