Special Olympics: Growing together in community

Community is important. It gives people a sense of belonging. It helps people get things done and builds something meaningful where nothing stood before.

The combined talents and efforts of a community can make a big difference in a city and in the world.

For people with developmental challenges, community is especially important; creating a place where friendships are formed, acceptance flows freely and full potential can be realized.

Building community is what the athletes, families and volunteers of Nashua Special Olympics do best. Nashua Special Olympics, a local program of Special Olympics New Hampshire, consists of more than 400 athletes, coaches, volunteers and family members who work together to train, organize and promote athletic opportunities for Special Olympics athletes.

For the last 27 years, their continued efforts have built a strong community that is dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with developmental disabilities through competitive sports training. But that isn’t all. The experience of being a team player, of achieving your personal best and of learning how to grow in social situations has built not only strong bodies, but strong friendships and strong self-esteem, as well.

The Nashua Special Olympics community includes Greater Nashua and surrounding towns, including Pelham, Hudson, Litchfield, Merrimack and Hollis. Throughout the year, Nashua Special Olympics offers sports training in basketball, bowling, swimming, snowshoeing, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, track and field, bocce, softball and golf, as well as various social events.

Many of these sports are offered as Unified training and competition, a concept that creates teams that are a combination of individuals with and without developmental challenges, providing a great learning experience for all team members. Athletes train throughout the year and compete on local, regional and state levels. Some of our athletes have been selected to compete in national and international competitions throughout the years.

Isaac Hartigan, of Nashua, an employee of Cravings Cafe for more than 12 years, has been involved in the Nashua program since its inception. Hartigan is 37 and remains active in many of the team sports, including basketball, alpine skiing, bowling, swimming, softball and golf.

When asked why he still participates, he says, "Special Olympics is important to my life. I have a lot of friends there and I have a lot of fun. This year, I won a gold medal in swimming and also in golf, which made me feel great.

"Playing sports helps me stay healthy and strong, and I like being part of a team. I have learned a lot and I love being in Nashua Special Olympics."

Hartigan’s longtime connection to Nashua Special Olympics is a common thread that runs through many Nashua families, as many of the program’s adult team members began when they were just 8. Today, the program continues to bring young members onboard through the Young Athletes program, which serves populations from ages 2-7 and prepares children for competitive sports training with NSO, which is available to people with developmental disabilities ages 8-99.

Community effort is vital to making Nashua Special Olympics successful in its mission to reach out to the many families of children and adults with special needs. An example of such community effort is Nashua Community College, which has opened its doors and hearts to the athletes who work so hard in readying themselves for competition.

When NCC opened its new gym nine years ago, Nashua Special Olympics was given the opportunity to bring its five basketball teams to practice there. That first year, three of those teams won their division.

Since that time, Nashua Community College has hosted Nashua Special Olympics basketball each year, providing practice space as well as volunteers to participate in the Unified sports concept of the NSO teams. Other Nashua community organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Nashua, also partner with Nashua Special Olympics for the use of their facilities.

Nashua Special Olympics relies on dedicated volunteers and family members who donate their time coaching, partnering and organizing events. As a nonprofit organization, NSO relies on fundraising and donations as its sole means of ensuring the program has the facilities and equipment it needs to provide opportunities to athletes.

This year, Nashua Special Olympics, in partnership with the town of Pelham and sponsored by the First Congregational Church, is hosting the Pelham Old Home Day 5K Race and Walk on Saturday, Sept. 17. The proceeds will benefit Nashua Special Olympics. Last year, more than 400 runners and walkers participated in the event, and this year they are hoping to break that participant record.

In addition to the 5K run, there will be a simultaneous 2.5-mile walk, and it will be officially timed by Yankee Timing Co. The race and walk start at Meetinghouse Park in Pelham Common at the intersection of Main Street and Windham Road, and meander through Pelham neighborhoods.

Starting time is 8:30 a.m., with registration and T-shirt pick up from 7-8:15.

The cost to participate in the race and walk is $25 if registered online, $35 if registered by mail-in or the day of the event. The registration fee is waived by fundraising a minimum of $50 in donations.

There will be goodie bags, T-shirts and prizes for winner categories, and a gift for the top fundraisers.

To find out all of the details and to register for the Pelham 5K, visit www.normnso.wix.com/pohd5k.

To donate to a fundraiser’s page, visit FirstGiving.com and search for 2016 Pelham Old Home Day 5k & Walk.

Please come out and meet our athletes and volunteers and support our special day.

Submitted by
Nashua Special Olympics