PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — The Rhode Island Special Olympics is the latest major sporting event to be canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving athletes heartbroken but hopeful as they look ahead to competing and sharing their gifts with the state once again.
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities around the world. Athletes are empowered to share their many God-given gifts and talents with the community — promoting inclusion, where every single person is accepted, regardless of ability or disability.
With the news of the cancellation, Christina Peacock, 28, a parishioner of St. Kevin Church in Warwick, Rhode Island, is keeping the faith and looking ahead, and reassuring other athletes to keep their hopes up during this difficult time.
For this Special Olympian and athlete with Down syndrome, the long-awaited 2020 event would have been her 21st Summer Games.
Her message? “Try to stay contacted via social media to your friends and try to stick to a daily workout schedule. Use the resources Special Olympics Rhode Island has set up. I encourage athletes to stay positive and don’t worry. We will get through this virus together and next year’s Summer Games will be extra special.”
Peacock is an accomplished athlete who competes throughout the year in a number of sports, including swimming, track and field, softball, soccer, basketball and volleyball.
“We know this is a great disappointment for the entire Special Olympics Rhode Island family, but the safety of our athletes, families, coaches, volunteers and staff remain our primary concern,” Dennis DeJesus, CEO of Special Olympics Rhode Island, said in a letter on the cancellation to athletes, families, coaches and volunteers.
He wrote that the state organization had been strongly advised by Special Olympics Inc. to cancel all local team practices, fundraising events and program events scheduled through May 31, which includes the State Summer Games.
“Our events are opportunities for entire communities to come together for a wonderful cause, but unfortunately, joining together at this time can pose a risk to our athletes and our entire Special Olympics family,” DeJesus wrote. “People should not worry that there will be long-term effect to our program or our ability to deliver it. Together we will get through this. Stay well and please stay in touch, we are here for you.”
Worldwide, the organization supports over 5 million athletes, 1 million coaches and volunteers, more than 100,000 competitions each year, and 32 Olympic-type sports through programs in more than 170 countries.
Peacock said she was saddened when she found out that all practicing and coming events would need to immediately cease, because she knows firsthand what this organization means to the athletes.
“When events began to be canceled for Special Olympics including the Summer Games, I was upset and sad,” she told the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence. “Special Olympics is important to me and other athletes because we get to see our friends, teammates and coaches. I love competing in my sports.”
Peacock knows the importance of keeping in touch with her coach and teammates and remaining physically active as they weather this situation.
“Special Olympics Rhode Island has set up a virtual workout for athletes three times a week to attend,” she said. “We also go on walks around the neighborhood and I have a basketball hoop in my backyard (where) I can practice my skills.”
Stacy Lynch has been involved with the Rhode Island Special Olympics for 15 years as the Trudeau Tigers’ swim coach. When events began to be canceled, she knew her swimmers would be heartbroken.
Always held at the University of Rhode Island, the weekend of competition “is such a special opportunity for them to celebrate their hard work all season with friends and family from all across the state,” explained Lynch. “Special Olympics offers athletes the opportunity, not only for sports and physical fitness, but the ability to create lifelong friendships.”
Her swim team spends six months training for the games in the pool and the other six months of the year doing team-building activities, such as group dinners and goal setting for the upcoming season. In this time of isolation, Lynch has offered private, online, dryland workouts as a tool they can access from home.
“Our swimmers thrive on consistency, both in the pool and in their daily lives,” Lynch said.
“With all of our normal day-to-day schedules in complete upheaval, a bit of regularity in their day is helpful. They have the option of doing the workouts and perhaps getting some stress relief from the physical activity. The coaches are having fun with it too, by doing some of the workouts as well and posting pictures for the athletes to see.”
Lynch was encouraging her team to stay positive and said the swimmers are getting motivated for next year’s season.
“They want to talk strategies for relay races and make new goals for the 2021 State Games,” she said. “I would encourage athletes to reach out to their coaches, continue making healthy choices every day and think about what skills they could work on to advance their upcoming sports season.
“This storm has changed all of our lives for the immediate future, but it too will run out of rain and we will all be back together again competing for gold.”
Kilgus is assistant editor of Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.