Arizona Soldiers are Special Heroes

There is no denying that the United States Army is made up of heroes – brave and dedicated individuals who risk their lives daily in order to protect our freedom. Each one of these individuals is extremely important to the fabric of our society as we know it. It should then come as no surprise that these well-known heroes willingly gave a weekend of their time to support a less likely group of heroes.

On March 26th and 27th, a group of soldiers from the 6253rd USAH in Mesa, Arizona volunteered at the Special Olympics Arizona (SOAZ) State Games competition held at Mesa Community College. Dressed in full uniform with temperatures reaching up into the high 90’s, the soldiers cheerfully escorted athletes through SOAZ’s Healthy Athletes screenings. In these screenings, the athletes are examined by volunteer medical professionals in the disciplines of podiatry, physical therapy, better health and well-being, audiology, vision, and dentistry. If any potential health issues are discovered, the athlete is then flagged for a referral and is assisted in receiving follow-up care. In addition to helping out with Healthy Athletes, the soldiers also provided the athletes with water, high fives, cheers, and smiles.

Many of the SOAZ athletes, all of which have intellectual disabilities, have had to overcome obstacles and difficulties in life that are unimaginable for most. Chances for these athletes to shine and feel appreciated are few and far between. The Summer Games are one of these treasured opportunities, and the presence of U.S. Army soldiers made the whole experience that much sweeter for the athletes.

Jesse Thompson, Healthy Athletes Coordinator for SOAZ, was moved by the athletes’ reactions to the soldiers. “Every time a soldier was matched up to escort athletes through the health screenings, they would immediately get a huge smile on their face,” said Thompson. “The soldiers are all-stars to our athletes.”

“They really enjoyed us being there,” said Captain Dwayne Gbelia, a member of the 6253rd USAH. “If we weren’t wanted, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.”

As much as the athletes loved interacting with the soldiers, the soldiers were able to take away just as much, if not more, from the experience. “Although our presence there seems to boost the spirits of the athletes and the other volunteers, I feel it does a lot more for me,” said Sergeant Tevenal, another volunteer from the 6253rd USAH. “It’s gratifying to serve the athletes and to help them to fulfill their dreams. We all want to do it again.”

For some of the soldier volunteers, this was their second experience with SOAZ after volunteering at the Fall Games in 2012 where they provided first aid services for the athletes. Captain Gbelia is hoping to continue to grow the 6253rd USAH’s involvement with SOAZ in the future. “We want to do more,” he said. “We have professional doctors and many other resources that could be utilized to benefit Special Olympics.”

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AZ Soldiers

7th Annual Breakfast With Champions

Once more, Special Olympics Arizona’s (SOAZ) Breakfast with Champions event is right around the corner! The 7th Annual Breakfast will be taking place on Friday, September 13, 2013 at the Arizona Biltmore. This signature fundraising event brings together over 1,000 community leaders, law enforcement personnel, political figures, coaches, families, and athletes for a motivational morning of speakers and testimonials sharing the positive impact SOAZ has on the lives of everyone involved.

Those attending this year’s Breakfast are in for an extra special treat as Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics International, will be in attendance as the event’s key-note speaker. As the son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Creator and Founder of Special Olympics, Tim has been closely involved with the organization throughout his entire life. He has established several successful initiatives in athlete leadership, cross-cultural research, health, education, and family support. Two major programs being celebrated at this year’s Breakfast are Special Olympics Advocacy Resources (SOAR) and Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs). SOAR is dedicated to partnering a Special Olympics Arizona athlete with a liaison who functions in a representative capacity/mentorship role to facilitate services in the realm of legal, advocacy, life and job skills. ALPs provides Special Olympics athletes with the opportunity to shape the future of the Special Olympics movement while ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to become leaders within the organization as well as in the community.

Special Olympics Arizona is more than just sports; it is an opportunity for those with intellectual disabilities to be productive, valued, and appreciated members of society.Image

Special Olympics in Times Square

Special Olympics athletes Andy Miyares and Michel Kazororis will be featured as part of Bank of America’s “Better When Connected” campaign this weekend on a jumbo screen in Times Square in New York City!

This high-visibility opportunity will feature a select group of charitable partners and their impact on the community, on the Marriott Marquis Hotel billboard in Times Square. The billboard is expected to generate 1.4 million impressions, daily, based on tourist and commuter foot traffic and social media. The billboard will encourage viewers to connect with Special Olympics via Twitter and other social media channels.

Time Square

Building Confidence and Skills through Sports

Special Olympics Arizona impacts the lives of more than 13,000 children and adults each year.  We work so that we may realize founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision:  to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities everywhere, and, in turn, transform the lives of everyone they touch – building a better, more accepting world for all of us.   The athletes tell us that our programs and events have improved their self-esteem, helped them make new friends, increased their sports skills and made them feel a part of their communities.

In his own words, Special Olympics athlete, Ronny Jones, tells why he loves Special Olympics and basketball:  I have liked basketball since I was little when I was shooting around with my Grandma and it was hard to shoot for a while.  Then I made my first shot and I told my Grandma that I wanted to play basketball.  I felt shy about playing when I was little but now I am more comfortable since I grew up. It helps me to stay in shape and lets me eat more pizza.  I play all the positions.  I love to shoot the basketball in the hoop a lot so I can make some good points and to pass and rebounding and defense.  Sometimes it’s hard to help my teammates get the ball. I play with some players that have a little bit of a hard time with pressure and I work hard to help them stay involved in the game.  We call it “Sharing the Love”.

 Special Olympics has built up my confidence. It has given me the opportunity to speak publicly and sing the National Anthem for SOAZ in front of thousands of people at our local arena football league game and at the Biltmore Resort for a Breakfast with Champions.  I have made many new friends both with and without disabilities by participating in Unified Sports and on the SOAZ Youth Activation Committee.  I’ve also met NBA players. My favorites are Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and LeBron James.   I wish I could be playing basketball with my favorite NBA players. I wish I could play basketball until I’m 62 years old.

photoRonny Jones and teammateRonny Jones passes during a game

Be a Fan!

On December 1, 2012 Special Olympics Arizona 2nd annual Be a Fan Gala will be held at the MonteLucia Resort in Paradise Valley,  Arizona.  This elegant fundraiser will bring together Special Olympic Athletes, Professional Athletes, Local Celebrities  Community Leaders and Socially Minded Individuals in support of inclusion for all people.  We would love for you to come and support the athletes of Special Olympics Arizona and get the opportunity to mingle with pro athletes such as the event Honorary Chair, Luis Gonzales and many more.

Mountain Area Fundraising

Congratulations the  Special Olympics Arizona Mountain Area for the successful fundraising for Special Olympics Athletes   The 8th Annual Bare Aspen Wine Tasting raised over $34,000.00 in donations and in kind services.  On behalf of the athletes we would like to thank Kathy Harper, Carol Sharp, all the volunteers and vendors that supported this event.

Great Day

What a great day, Jim Rudow officially accepted the Mountain Area Director Position, and will bring greatly needed program experience and passion to Northern Arizona. Jim will be a great addition to our Area Director Team which consist of Holy Thompson in Coronado, and the rookie of the bunch Lisa Ball in the River Area. Lisa is really off to an exciting start with all of the new programs getting going in Yuma and the other communities.

Have a great day,