October 18, 2013

Werner Braun: Special Olympics golf postscript

DALTON — I’ve always been incredibly proud of our Capital City Rotary Club for its commitment to the greater community and for its spirit of volunteerism, which, in my mind, has no equal.

One of the most meaningful projects taken on by Rotary volunteers each year involves sponsoring events for special needs children and adults — events that include competitions in basketball, bowling, track and field, and golf.

It’s especially exciting for the club as a whole when we have an opportunity to host a statewide event, like last weekend’s Special Olympics golf tournament.

I can honestly say that this year’s tournament was one of the best yet.

Two of our club members, Anthony Cline and Ben Rickett, made a presentation to the club this past Tuesday highlighting the event and sharing what it meant to them to participate. Their reflections on the experience were enthusiastic and glowing, and I’d like to share some of what they had to say with you today.

Anthony, who grew up in a home with a special needs child and knows firsthand the challenges many children face, was so impressed by his first time as a Special Olympics volunteer that he likened it to an almost “spiritual” experience.

“I think it was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Anthony, who serves as operations manager for Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE).

“Personally, I think we’re often put in positions to see things that end up having a major impact on our lives. When you have the opportunity to see how hard these athletes work all year, and then have a chance to see them showcase their skills, it’s an absolute blessing.  

“These young people and adults come out to have fun, but they also come out to win. They try hard and they receive encouragement for every step they take. It’s just phenomenal.”

Although Special Olympics is often associated with children and youth, the competitions are not just open to children and teenagers. Anyone, ages 8 and up, who has been identified by an agency or a professional as having an intellectual disability is eligible to participate in Special Olympics.

The state of Georgia alone serves nearly 25,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities through its 180 programs in 120 counties.

So we consider ourselves pretty lucky to have been the sponsor of the statewide Special Olympics golf tournament this fall, where we hosted between 70 and 80 young and young-at-heart golfers from morning until night.

Of course we had the assistance of hundreds of volunteers, including Mayor David Pennington who organized volunteer activities. And Rickett, the head golf coach at Dalton State, who saw this event as the “perfect opportunity” to bring out members of the college’s men’s and women’s golf teams and cheerleading squad last Saturday to help coach athletes and hand out prizes.

 “I was amazed by the number of people who came to help out,” he said. “Each golfer was assisted by about three volunteers.”

The event was broken into a skills session in the morning, followed by either nine or 18 holes of golf in the afternoon, based upon skill levels.

Ben, who took pictures of golfers during the day as they walked the course, texted or emailed photos to many of the athletes who had requested them, only to discover that within about half an hour those photos had already been posted on Facebook.

“These athletes took joy in every shot they took,” said Ben. “It’s eye-opening and heartwarming working with these special athletes. Their outlook on life is so positive. I think we could all definitely take a leaf out of their playbook as to how to live life.”

And he observed that those participants and their families who came from south Georgia, the Atlanta area and all around our state had nothing but positive comments to say about their experience here.

“Everyone was speaking very highly of this community, about the number of volunteers that were on hand, and about the beautiful setting of the Nob North Golf Course. They all seemed to have a really great time.”

Many of you know that our Rotary sponsors a “Spring for the Green” hole-in-one competition at Dalton Golf & Country Club each spring and that the proceeds from that event go to support our Special Olympics competitions all year.

For those who have never had the opportunity to view a Special Olympics event, I encourage you to join us as either a spectator or as a volunteer during one of our events and view the triumph of the human spirit over significant physical and intellectual challenges.

You’ll be glad you did.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.