The Special Olympics, A Special Place For Me



By Eliana Smooha

When I entered the Great Neck North Middle School gym on a Friday evening about two years ago, I did not know what to expect. I was met by a large group of enthusiastic and eager athletes who welcomed me warmly as I made my way to the basketball court.

I had gone to my guidance counselor seeking community service ideas and she had suggested volunteering at Special Olympics. There was no weekly commitment and I could come and go when I was available. To me, it was a win-win situation; I could list it as an extracurricular activity on my résumé and I didn’t have to dedicate too much time to it. Little did I know that I would end up making sure to clear my schedule so I could attend every Friday thereafter.

I have come to see that Special Olympics is truly a close-knit family. Over the years, a remarkable supportive bond has been established between all participants. Just last week, Rhonda, an active athlete, was having a difficult time shooting a basket after several attempts. She walked off the court disappointed in her inability to score successfully. It didn’t take long for Margaret, a fellow athlete, to notice Rhonda’s dismay and immediately run to comfort her.

“Did you try your best, Rhonda?” Margaret asked, to which Rhonda cried, “Yes, but it took me a long time.” Margaret then responded, “Then that’s what matters!”

From left: The Great Neck Spirits Coaches are Michele Murphy, Jackie Mazur, Diane Polland, Alan Someck, Ed Fernbach, Chris Brown and Jordana Cohen; Stacy Parisi is not pictured.
From left: The Great Neck Spirits Coaches are Michele Murphy, Jackie Mazur, Diane Polland, Alan Someck, Ed Fernbach, Chris Brown and Jordana Cohen; Stacy Parisi is not pictured.

After dwelling on what had just happened, Rhonda suddenly had a moment of realization—a moment that I believe is one of the most uplifting scenarios to experience. “I just remembered something!” Rhonda exclaimed. ”The Special Olympics athlete oath is, ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ I tried my best and that is good enough!”

As an older sister of a special-needs brother, I was touched by Rhonda’s recognition of her effort. I understand that what comes easily to some could be a great obstacle to others, and her struggle hit close to home. On a daily basis, I watch my brother hold tight onto the railing, desperately trying to keep his balance as he makes his way down the stairs. Sometimes, all it takes is a few words of encouragement and knowing there’s someone to believe in you that could make an achievement, however small, seem great.

It’s that same Special Olympics aura in the gym that keeps me coming back every week. The atmosphere is palpable. It is no wonder we are called “The Great Neck Spirits.”

Special Olympics is a place where volunteers, athletes and spectators have a mutual respect for one another. During basketball practice, holiday parties, pizza nights and bowling events, each and every one of us encourages each other through positive vibes, high fives and big group cheers. It’s a place where we all feel we belong, where we can all be ourselves and where the only thing that matters is that we try our best and support each other.

After my first experience at Special Olympics, I felt compelled to have my brother join. Even though Alex is one of the youngest members of the group at 15, he feels fully accepted as part of the team and two-and-a-half years later, we are both more connected and proud to be a part of this beautiful Special Olympics family. The bond is second to none and I never imagined that the act of giving could be synonymous with the pleasure of receiving.

For more information on Special Olympics or to participate, contact Alan Someck at asomeck@gmail.comor Jaclyn Mazur at

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