By Cindy Zomar, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – As the COVID-19 shelter in place orders took effect in March, it was anyone’s guess as to how long the isolation would last, but it has been taking its toll on a group of athletes that were preparing for a big event in June. The Special Olympians hold their Hall of Fame induction and Summer Games at Harvard and Boston University in the middle of June each year, the culmination of months of practice and training. Unfortunately, the event has been cancelled and the decision made to include this year’s nominations with next year’s Hall of Fame inductees. Names had not been announced yet.
“It was a heart-breaking decision, and June seemed far away when we had to call it, but we had to do it,” said Catherine Twing, the Digital and Event Engagement Coordinator for Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA). “We all are working from home and feel isolated right now, but it is even harder for our athletes. They rely on routine and need to stay active. They miss their friends, so we are all flying by the seat of our pants to work this out.
“In mid-March, we scrambled to get some things together, Stay Fit with SOMA, including a blog, a fitness video, and a dashboard of activities,” she continued. “Through the online fitness program, athletes are face to face with their teammates and coaches and they can visit a bit with their friends.”
Twing admitted that the sports and health/fitness components of Special Olympics practices and tournaments may be the only workout some of the athletes get. Giving them this resource to help them stay active is invaluable.
Some of the volunteer coaches also share websites, videos, and other resources for them as well, she noted.
“Beth Donahue is our Global Health Messenger for Special Olympics North America and we had some videos we had done with her before all this started, as well as some for a YouTube fundraiser for our runners. There are fitness tips and nutrition components, even recipes. We also have a ZOOM fitness class on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. We average about 30 athletes for that each week, with as many as 55 or so one week.
“The Athlete Chat is on Friday afternoons, with Mike Kelley, an intern from Worcester State who is also an athlete and a unified coach with the Auburn High School team. Generally, about 15 athletes participate in the chat, which is a nice manageable number because they all get a chance to talk,” Twing explained.
The large Special Olympics facility at 512 Forest Street in Marlborough is the state headquarters for Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA), serving over 14,000 athletes. Until this was built, there were regional offices spread across the commonwealth. The facility has permanent offices for 30 staff members who handle fundraising, marketing, communications, sports management, schools, and community development. Each state is given the freedom to accommodate their own athletes, which is why the Stay Fit with SOMA program began. The conference rooms and gymnasium are often rented out for events, such as the TD Bank meetings, and the AMSA (Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School) basketball games. Aside from the staff, there are local program coordinators throughout Massachusetts that provide thousands of coaches and volunteers.
“We make sure they have the resources they need and provide training for the coaches. We held six hundred events last year,” Twing said. “Right now, we are just trying to make the best of a bad situation. “