Apr 28, 2009
Making a few dreams come true
by Jake Petersen
Over the past year, members of the Flames athletic teams have partnered with Special Olympians from across the state of Virginia in an effort to give back to the Lynchburg community. Liberty Athletics has taken local Special Olympics teams from the Piedmont Region, under its wing – mainly in the form of the Liberty University Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
The SAAC is an organization solely for Liberty University athletes, and it works to raise money for a specific cause. Last year, it was the Make-A-Wish Foundation. This year, they chose the Special Olympics of Virginia (SOVA), and the athletes, under the leadership of advisor Meredith Eaker, have embraced the mission whole-heartedly, dedicating countless hours of precious time to everything from fundraising to clinics to just befriending these special group of athletes who enjoy sports just as much as they do.
“We had players from (Liberty’s) volleyball team come to some of our volleyball games and players on their basketball team come to some of the men’s games as well,” Eaker said. “They actually got to run out of the tunnel that the Liberty basketball players run out of with the smoke and everything.”
“My favorite event this year was simply sitting with all the Special Olympians at one of the basketball games. I had so much fun getting to know them” SAAC President and women’s soccer player Rachel Wisehart said. “Working with Special Olympics of Virginia and Make-A-Wish Foundation has been a truly humbling experience and giving back to others is something that I plan on continuing even after graduating from Liberty.”
Josh Walker, who serves as director of the Piedmont Region, had nothing but praise for the relationship that Liberty and the Special Olympics of Virginia have formed over the past year. Walker said Liberty played a huge role in SOVA actually founding an office in the Lynchburg area.
“We actually put an office in Lynchburg in large part because of Liberty and because Liberty and the Special Olympics are very similar in our ideas and what we believe in,” Walker said. “One thing that stood out was earlier this year at a volleyball game (when) we had a bunch of athletes come to the game, which Liberty actually lost. Instead of just staying in the locker room, the volleyball team came out and signed autographs and hung out with our athletes. They still talk about that to this day.”
One of the primary focuses of the SAAC is to raise money through various fundraisers for the organizations they sponsor. This year, one of the SOVA’s biggest fundraisers was the Polar Plunge, which took place on February 28 and was held just a few miles away from campus at Camp Hydaway, where 15 plungers braved the chilly waters and raised over $2,400 for the Lynchburg Special Olympics sector.
On Saturday, April 18, Olympians and Liberty athletes met for what Walker called “A Day with the Flames” where athletes took part in Spring Game festivities as well as basketball and soccer clinics prior to the game.
“It’s so cool to see them smiling all the time. That really amazes me and makes me realize that my joy can’t be circumstantial and that just like they make others smile by smiling, I should do the same,” SAAC member and men’s soccer midfielder Juan Guzman said. “I think the greatest time I have had was at the Polar Plunge. Getting in that water with some of the athletes was awesome!”
As the school year comes to a close, Liberty’s involvement with the Special Olympics of Virginia will not. Eaker said she hopes Liberty can continue its relationship with SOVA, while Walker hopes to recruit volunteers for community service and internships next year.
In a time and culture which Guzman described as all about “me, me, me” this unique, simple and most importantly “special” way of athletes joining together to give back in a huge way fully exemplifies the late Rev. Jerry Falwell’s vision of training Champions for Christ.