Thursday, April 24, 2014

Time for us to step up and jump in

You may have never heard of 21-year-old Molly Hincka, but she is an exceptional person and an amazing athlete. She has won medals participating in 10 different athletic events. She volunteers at an Alzheimer’s facility in her hometown of Livingston County, Mich. She runs six miles a day to stay in shape.

Chillin’ — Polar Plunge 2012 raised more than $24,000 for Special Olympics Virginia. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

Add in the fact that she was born with an intellectual disability, wore braces on her legs as a child and had doctors telling her parents she would never walk normally, and you have quite the accomplished young woman.

Hincka has overcome all the odds stacked against her to become one of the greatest athletes the Special Olympics has ever seen. Consumer goods company Procter & Gamble even aired a commercial featuring Molly Hincka and her mother Kerry Hincka, who narrated the inspirational piece.

All of this was possible because someone gave Molly Hincka that chance to play, her chance to shine, her chance to be normal.

The Special Olympics is held in a fashion very similar to the Olympic Games, allowing athletes to compete in a wide variety of sporting events. Unlike the Olympic games, though, the Special Olympics holds competitions year-round, with 53,000 events being run in over 170 countries with more than 4 million participating athletes, according to the Special Olympics website.

With programs in every state, Special Olympics Virginia manages 2,000 events yearly, and it is all made possible by the donations of time and money of more than 20,000 partners.

Now, it is time for students to take part.

The Hill City Polar Plunge is held every year during February to raise money for the Special Olympics. Participants raise $50 per person, and then jump into the icy waters of Camp Hydaway Lake as a means of distorted, yet fun, celebration. On Feb. 16, the yearly tradition continues.

How many times are we instructed to help others? How many times do we beg for an opportunity to make a difference? How often do we wonder, “How can I get involved?”
Consider this article yet another call to action. The Special Olympics Virginia needs donations, and we need to be involved.

Liberty junior Olivia Witherite is the firm director for Liberty’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) and an account executive for the Special Olympics. She now helps run an event that she has participated in.

“I know it’s cold, and people are really afraid of cold water, and they don’t want to do it, but I will definitely say it’s fun, because everyone is psyching each other out,” Witherite said. “Holding hands, locking arms, jumping in. I mean, it sounds cliché, but you’re all in it together.”

Karin Thompson, a senior at Liberty, has also participated in the event previously and plans to do so again this year. She sees Polar Plunge as one way to show love to those with intellectual challenges.

“It is difficult and awkward to care for those who you can not understand, and for that reason, they need love and community more than anyone,” Thompson said.

Witherite used a comparison that Matt Camire, the director of development for the Special Olympics Virginia, made about participating in what some see as an uncomfortable event.

“He told me that Special Olympics athletes have to overcome a lot in their everyday lives, whether it’s going to school or finding different programs that they can participate in,” Witherite said. “I think us jumping in is symbolic — it’s sucking it up, being brave. It’s something we can do to bring awareness to the athletes. It’s a nice way to give back.”

Witherite also pointed out that while registration this year has been good, the numbers are slightly down from last year. The challenge has been set, and it would be negligent to back away.

“I never saw the things my child couldn’t do. I only imagined what she could,” Kerry Hincka said about her daughter in the Procter & Gamble commercial.

Imagine what we can do as well.

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