This summer, Los Angeles will be hosting the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world. From July 25 to August 2, more than 3,000 coaches, 30,000 volunteers 500,000 spectators, and 7,000 athletes representing 177 countries, will assemble for the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games (www.la2015.org). While California seems like a world away from home sweet home, six athletes will be representing Maryland on Team USA. The team features: Eddie Murphy from Queen Anne’s County (Cycling), Terrel Limerick from Montgomery County (Sailing), Chris Dooley from Caroline County (Kayaking), Abigail Reznik from Prince George’s County (Swimming), Alicia Gogue from Anne Arundel County (Cycling), and Ben Stevick from Howard County (Equestrian).
For these six athletes, representing all of their teammates and fellow athletes from Maryland who are unable to go to the World Games is a significant motivator. The World Summer Games have not been held in the United States in 16 years, and the return of the games to the US is an added benefit to the already prestigious honor. Not only are the athletes excited that they will be representing their country, but they will get to do so on their home soil and in front of a home crowd.
Special Olympics Maryland has 18 programs across the state, with athletes competing within their own counties in 24 different sports. Training is done in facilities throughout the athlete’s home county, including local high schools, colleges, YMCAs, and many more. “Maryland is a very generous state and the people are amazing in that they are always willing to help,” says Jason Schriml, VP of Communications and Brand Management for Special Olympics Maryland. But for these athletes the path to the World Games includes much more than rigorous training. Athletes must go to at least 2 qualifiers to go to the State Games. If athletes earn a gold medal at the state level they then have the opportunity to move onto the USA Games and in years like this one, the World Games.
The Maryland branch of the Special Olympics serves nearly 7,000 athletes statewide, and in the next four years the organization plans to double that figure. “Fundraising activities are so critical for Special Olympics Maryland because athletes do not pay a dime to participate and the money raised goes to support training programs and competition costs for these athletes,” says Schriml. One of the major fundraising events every year is the Polar Bear Plunge which has been running for 19 years and has become a tradition for thousands of people. Not only do people from all over Maryland participate, but the athletes that the money is going to serve also take part in the tradition. Athletes from Anne Arundel County, Hartford County, Howard County and Baltimore County took the plunge this year, as well as 6 or 7 super plungers who went in every hour on the hour for the whole day of the Polar Bear Plunge. This year the Plunge, which took place on January 24th, raised over $1.7 million.
These athlete’s paths to the World Games have been full of highs, lows, late nights, sore muscles and everything in between. Hard work, working your way up from county, to state and eventually getting the chance to represent your country is a spectacular achievement for these athletes and encompasses what Maryland athletics is all about. To learn more about Special Olympics Maryland visit their website at www.somd.org and to learn more about the Maryland athletes competing in this year’s World Summer Games visit www.somd.org/compete/2015-world-games.