Volunteers a crucial part of Special Olympics

Saturday, May 31, 2014 | 10:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:26 a.m. CDT, Sunday, June 1, 2014

COLUMBIA — Olivia Caldwell wished for a boring weekend.

Caldwell, who works as a student athletic trainer at MU, volunteered alongside fellow training student Emily Comish as part of the medical staff for the Special Olympics Missouri State Summer Games.

This year's Special Olympics was short some 300 volunteers earlier in the week, according to previous Missourian reporting. Trainers like Caldwell and Comish, however, are among the many who stepped up.

Caldwell got her wish as the duo only had to correct minor scrapes and bruises and give ice packs during their Saturday shift — nothing major.

After dealing with the hyper-competitive environment surrounding college athletics, Comish and Caldwell enjoyed a different atmosphere.

“The energy here is so overwhelmingly positive. It’s amazing how everyone is so supportive and happy here,” Comish said. “It’s great (because) everyone is encouraged.”

It was Comish's first Special Olympics volunteer experience. Many, like Caldwell who volunteered three years ago, return to the Summer Games.

It’s an organization that some students are introduced to in high school by the Missouri Association of Student Councils, one of the event’s sponsors. The two groups have partnered for more than 20 years, and they recently paired together for the R-word Campaign, a push to remove slurs from common language.

For Jefferson City High School’s Student Council, the Special Olympics is its charity of choice. The group provided enthusiastic volunteers for the event.

“We just really enjoy it, that’s what it came down to," senior Sarah Crawford said. "We love the athletes, and we love helping out as much as we can."

It also offered the opportunity to meet new people and bond with athletes.

“I really like getting to know the athletes and connecting with them,” junior Mara Busch said.

After they graduate from high school, some student volunteers find their way back to the Special Olympics.

As a high school student in St. Louis, Andy Hays volunteered for three consecutive years while serving on his student council. Nearly a decade later, Hays, 25, said he is appreciative of the opportunity to return and give back because his first venture into the Special Olympics left a positive mark on his life.

He was paired with a buddy for three consecutive years who he helped get through the day.

“Just seeing the smiles, everyone has fun from the athletes to the volunteers,” Hays said. “It’s such a good day. Especially with weather like this — you can’t beat it.”

This story was written by one of 11 students participating in the Sports Journalism Institute, hosted by MU. This is the 22nd class for the Institute, designed to provide minority and female students with a start in the sports journalism industry. This is SJI's third year at Missouri.

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