Pandemic challenges Special Olympics and its athletes

Connecticut

Special Olympians are used to facing challenges but the COVID pandemic may be insurmountable. It has forced athletes off the playing field and into practicing and competing at home virtually. Combine that with the lack of fundraising and donations that are down dramatically.

When we first spoke with Debbie Horne from Special Olympics CT, she said there were no plans on hosting any in-person events again until at least April.

On Tuesday however, Special Olympics CT announced that local programs will be allowed to hold in-person practices for the Summer Games season, starting in April. COVID screenings, mask-wearing, and social distancing will be enforced. Athletes can participate at their discretion.

Even with steps in place for returning to the field, it will take time to recover from the past year with COVID.

It’s not just the practices and competitions that are suffering. Personal contacts are also impacted according to athlete Natasha Cole and her mother Sally.

One parent of an athlete reiterates that: “It was very confusing to many of the athletes not understanding what COVID was and why it was stopping things in life. They could not be with their fellow athletes and friends playing sports, going to practices, not having group functions, not be able to see family members in person. State games canceled. They missed vacations. There was a lot of depression and sadness for them. Once they can start up again it’s going to look like they won the lottery in excitement.”

CT Special Olympics could also use a financial windfall. Overall, there has been nearly a $1,000,000 drop in donations and fundraising in 2020 from 2019.

Police departments and other law enforcement agencies still did their part in 2020. Among them was Middletown Police, with a donation of nearly $23,000. Eversource has supported Special Olympics for more than 30 years. Spokesman Mitch Gross says they continue to have employees who participate in these virtual events.

So what’s ahead? Despite what appears to be gloomy, Debbie Horne says they are still looking forward to starting some in-person events.

Connecticut Special Olympics has more than 7,300 athletes. In 2020, there were 12,907 participants in community and school-based sports, fitness, and health programs. 7,304 of the 2020 participants were athletes with intellectual disabilities. 5,603 were Unified Sports Partners (their teammates without intellectual disabilities). The organization also had 2,665 volunteers in 2020 however that number is down from more than 16,000 prior to the pandemic.

There are ways you can help CT Special Olympics. To learn more about Special Olympics and how you can donate or volunteer visit https://www.soct.org/.

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