Skating to Success

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“Throughout my life, I have seen the difference that volunteering efforts can make in people's lives…” True to these words stated by Jimmy Carter, volunteering can significantly changed my life and has altered my views on the world and myself in countless ways. Although volunteering in any form can be rewarding, there is no reward greater than seeing the impact you have made in a group.
I began volunteering with the Special Olympics Minnesota figure skating team in August 2007. When I first helped this group, I assumed it would be a one-time commitment. It was a spur of the moment need because one of their full time coaches was absent, and admittedly I was a bit reluctant to help. Looking back I now laugh at myself for not jumping into this opportunity overflowing with excitement, but I had never worked, or even associated, with anyone who had a disability before.
My nerves and reluctance quickly faded as the group began to embrace me in their appreciation and friendship. After only thirty minutes of class I felt as though I had known these people my whole life. It was then I realized I had found a special place. A place of unconditional acceptance.
When the head coach asked me, I jumped on the opportunity to become a weekly volunteer with the Special Olympics figure skating team. Reflecting this is one of the most influential decisions I have made in my life and certainly one of the best.
This type of volunteer work was truly mutually rewarding. The skater gets the benefit of establishing friendships with others and learning new skills. However, in my opinion I, as the volunteer, received the greater reward. Not only did I experience a sort of safe haven filled with unconditional acceptance while working with these athletes, but truly there is no reward greater than seeing the glow in the eyes of a little girl with downs syndrome, after they successfully master a skill they have worked at for weeks, when they wrap their arms around you and shout to the world with pride, “I can DO it!”
Since September I have become extremely involved in this activity. It is one of my top priorities and a place I always look forward to going. Throughout the year I have not only helped with classes but also skated as a unified partner in the Special Olympics, and helped and competed on their unified synchronized skating team which is the first in the world. In the coming weeks, I will be helping them prepare for their skating show and accompanying them on a trip to Chicago to participate in a study of how people collaborate together on a unified synchronized skating team (a team with both disabled and fully-able participants).
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” This holds true to my experience with Special Olympics. This experience has taught me lessons I will never forget and acceptance and about the beauty of each individual in this world. Volunteering is a life changing experience and can permanently alter the way you look at the world.





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