This June, ten Special Olympics athletes from all three LIFE campuses will be representing Team Massachusetts in their respective sport(s) in Orlando, Florida. I had the opportunity to interview some of these athletes as well as the Fitness Director, Ian Saarmann. This will be the third time LIFE, Inc. athletes have represented Team Massachusetts at the USA Games. In 2010, the LIFE Special Olympics basketball team went to the USA Games, held at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The USA Games in 2014 saw two residents participate in individual sports at the USA Games in New Jersey. Ian mentioned that he is more excited about this event than the one in Nebraska, because it’s held in Orlando.

In order to qualify for the USA Games, the athletes had to prove they could play well and conduct appropriate sportsmanship. They are representing Massachusetts, after all. When the time came to select the teams to go to Orlando, LIFE’s own soccer team was amongst the ones chosen. Dee Cotter was selected individually for Track and Field.

Each of the resident athletes participating in this year’s USA Games have not been involved with this event in the past; they have, however, participated in various sports with LIFE’s Special Olympics teams in addition to soccer and track and field. Every single participant expressed excitement and are all in agreement on one thing: it’s an honor to be able to go to the USA Games and represent Massachusetts. Hyannis resident Zack G. said “it’s like playing in a super bowl and being able to prove to yourself and everyone that having a disability won’t stop you from conquering what you were born to do!” “It feels like a dream.”

Renee L., also a Hyannis resident, says. Preparing for the USA Games took a lot of hard work and dedication for these resident athletes. Renee L. of Hyannis says she has fully cut processed and frozen foods from her diet. She has begun to eat healthy while working out hard for the games. Zack G. echoes this, also adding that he lifts weights and does cardio to strengthen his muscles.

Most residents received support from their fitness coaches, Ian Saarmann and Kim Cassim. A few added that they received support from their friends and family as well. In addition to receiving support from their coaches, family, and friends, some of the resident athletes also say they look up to professional athletes as a source of inspiration. Zack G. lists several professional football players and baseball players as examples — such as Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning, and Derek Jeter. “They inspire me because they’re good humans on and off the field,” Zack G. explains. Renee L. says she has always looked up to Lindsey Vonn and Michael Phelps.

LIFE Fitness Director Ian Saarmann also expressed his excitement at this opportunity and shared how proud he was for the teams. “This was their goal at the beginning of the year,” he says. “They tried very hard and I’m proud of them.” “Teamwork is about supporting each other.” Ian Saarman says. “Seeing our guys come together and the nice thing is, we have players from all three campuses. I’m not sure if they knew each other well beforehand, but they still supported each other and there was no negative energy.” “It’s about working together and being resilient. Always having a team first, team always mentality, and lifting each other up after every mistake and praising each other through the good and bad times.” Zack G. explains and Dee C. echoes these words. “It means getting everyone involved, no matter what their skill level is.” Jimmy K. says.

“There is no ‘I’ in team. It’s all about dedication and being a team player,” says Renee L.

When asked to share some fond memories of being with LIFE Special Olympics, Zack G. shares one from this year’s state tournament at Byfield. The soccer team was down 0 to 1 and, despite feeling frustrated, the team rallied around one another. In the second half, they scored three back-to-back goals, and ended up winning the tournament 3 to 1. The most defining moment of the event, however, was the team receiving a special message from the New England Revolution soccer team’s defender Andrew Farrell congratulating them on making it to the USA Games. Jimmy K. of Hyannis shares that this is his favorite memory as well. Ian Saarmann also shares the same memory, expressing how proud he was of the soccer team for coming back and winning the game. “Being around the players and seeing their enthusiasm for the game,” he says, sharing his favorite part of being a coach for LIFE Special Olympics.

In addition to sharing their fond memories, each of the resident athletes shared their favorite part of being involved with LIFE Special Olympics. Renee L. of Hyannis shares how she likes that it’s inclusive to everyone. “It doesn’t matter your ability or struggles,” she says. “You are always included, no matter what.”

“I love how Special Olympics show what real grit is, and how they encourage anyone to do their own personal best, no matter what level they’re at.” Jimmy K. of Hyannis says. “My favorite part of Special Olympics is cheering on others.” Dee C. of Mashpee says. “Special Olympics is a wonderful experience for me.” Says John D. of Mashpee.

Each resident athlete was asked what advice they had for anyone who might be interested in joining LIFE Special Olympics’ teams and every one provided very encouraging, supportive, positive words. Zack of the Hyannis campus and John of the Mashpee campus both emphasize having fun and trying your best. Dan B adds, “it’s important to keep your mind in the game and good results will come with hard work.” “Shoot for the moon and even if you miss, shoot for the stars.” – Renee L. of Hyannis.

About the Author

Becki G. was born and raised in Framingham, MA where she attended a school for the Deaf all throughout childhood. She first moved to LIFE at Mashpee in 2010 and enjoys the support she gets from the staff on campus. She likes reading on her Kindle, taking pictures of nature, listening to music, streaming TV shows, and writing on her blog.