by Bailee Gannon
I walk through the side door, passing by the mounds of boots, mittens and snow pants that are piled up by the cubbies. Walking into the next room, I’m greeted by a circle of smiling faces and I wave and say hello.
I am at Zack’s Place—a sacred place to me—where special needs kids can be themselves and be with those who are anxious to play and have fun with them. This is a beautiful thing, you see. All of the volunteers are all here by choice—wanting to help—wanting to make sure that the members of Zack’s Place are having fun and are comfortable.
I am a volunteer for the snowshoeing event of the 2013 Special Olympics, and every volunteer like me has a partner from Zack’s Place. My partner is Suzanna, one of the most bubbly spirits that I have ever met. Her smile lights up a room, and the more time I spend with her, the more time I spend telling myself how happy I am that I signed up to help with the Special Olympics.
All of the athletes, volunteers, and aides sit down in a big circle as we listen to Kitty King, one of the coordinators, speak. Kitty is one of my favorite parts of volunteering because she brings such a light to every aspect of our practices. She announces that it is time to sing our theme song, a classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Nickolas Ashford. Everyone in the room gets up and dances while I stand for a moment, smiling at everyone as they show off their best moves.
Walking outside, I grab a pair of snowshoes from the bin and proceed to look for Suzanna. We walk to the Green, where the athletes and volunteers take turns showing off their snowshoeing skills. “I’m so excited that we’re partners,” says Suzanna as she looks at me, smiling with all of her might. “Me too,” I say and squeeze her hand as we make our long, cold journey to the green.
Once we arrive, I help Suzanna put her snowshoes on as I struggle with my own. Winter sports have never been my forte, but with the help of my partner we are able to succeed the more we try. The group splits in two, and separates on either side of the Green. One set of partners run to the other side of the Green, and tag the waiting pair so that they can continue to do the same thing. This is the way that we practice and I can’t help but grin from ear-to-ear as I watch the athletes run like the wild, their partners trailing behind.
That’s one of the challenging parts of being partnered with Suzanna—she’s just too fast. Most of the volunteers face the same problem that I do, because all of the athletes are so skilled in snowshoeing that it is almost impossible to keep up with them.
The running pair is coming straight for Suzanna and me—my heart grows heavy as I get ready to sprint like there’s no tomorrow. They tag us and we’re off! The snow is hitting my back as I run—I don’t care how cold I am or how much snow goes down my jacket. We reach the awaiting pair and Suzanna tags the next athlete, as I stop to catch my breath. I high-five Suzanna, and tell her what an amazing job she did.
I think that a lot of people think that volunteering for the Special Olympics is too much trouble—and that it’s overwhelming—but the truth is that it’s overwhelming in the most wonderful way. I’m overwhelmed by smiling faces, by laughter and dance. I’m surrounded by wonderful people and a field full of snow.
Although this is my first year of volunteering, I am already excited and thrilled just thinking of the years to come, and how much more time I will be able to spend with Suzanna and the other athletes. Signing up to volunteer with the Special Olympics was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made and I encourage others to give it a try. It may become one of the best decisions of your life.