SPECIAL OLYMPICS: Virtual, but still very real, the tradition endures this weekend

SPECIAL OLYMPICS: Virtual, but still very real, the tradition endures this weekend

Let the games begin!

Not even a COVID-19 quarantine could prevent local athletes from showcasing their talents and skills in the Special Olympics in Connecticut, which opened Friday and continue through Sunday.

In its 52nd year, this is the first time the event is being held virtually.

Activities can be viewed on Special Olympics Connecticut’s social media platforms — Facebook, YouTube and Instagram — as well as on its website, soct.org.

“We realized that we couldn’t gather and athletes couldn’t train, and we saw what some of the Special Olympics programs in different parts of the country were doing,” said Debbie Horne, communications and marketing director at Special Olympics Connecticut. “We saw switching to virtual as a great way to keep our athletes engaged, involved and active.”

Year-long training for more than 200 Special Olympians in more than 70 programs from around the state comes to fruition this weekend in events that include track and field, soccer, tennis and cycling.

“They seem really excited to be a part of it,” said Horne. “A lot of them have sent us their videos of them doing their activities in their yards and neighborhoods.”

One such athlete, 40-year-old Angie D’Amico of Cheshire, has been training on her own.

“It’s been kind of difficult. I’ve been working out at home and running, so that’s how I’ve been preparing for it,” said D'Amico, who is competing in soccer.

D’Amico said she always wanted to play soccer growing up. Her mom started the team in Cheshire 10 years ago and found a coach for the Special Olympics. 

Another competitor, 38-year-old Choy Hin from Southington, prepared by going for bike rides both long and short, occasionally with his partner.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time; this is not my first,” said Hin, who will be participating in cycling. “I do a lot with the Special Olympics.”

Volunteers have signed on to cheer the athletes through social media. The aim is to provide the same energy and excitement and make it feel like previous events.

Special Olympics Connecticut may not be in person this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting and competitive.

“I think this year it’s going to be about skills, and in previous years we competed against each other, so it’s definitely going to be different from the past,” said D’Amico.

Friday night’s opening ceremony was broadcast on the Special Olympics Connecticut website for the first time ever and included messages from sponsors and a virtual law enforcement torch run.

Following the opening ceremonies, there was a virtual athlete dance through iHeartRadio. Connecticut’s five iHeartRadio stations broadcasted and had supportive messages on air to the Special Olympians.

On Saturday, throughout the day, Special Olympics Connecticut shared videos of the athletes and their performances. On Sunday, at 3:30 p.m., there will be an honor roll before the events wrap up. It will include a video presenting all the athletes, programs and scores.

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