Defining success in Special Olympics

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On a sports calendar, the natural time to look back and say thank you is at the end of a season.

The season finale for the Suffolk Special Olympics powerlifting team, lifters Kavelle Martin, Daryl Taylor and T.J. Woolfork and head coach Rob Kelly came earlier this month when all three athletes won gold at the AAU World Championships in Florida. Martin set a new AAU/Special Olympic world record in the deadlift there.

The victory and the record make it even more appropriate to give Kelly thanks for his volunteer work.

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A few months ago, during the first practice after the powerlifting team returned from Las Vegas with national gold medals, Kelly introduced a new potential recruit to the team. Expanding his team and giving more Special Olympics athletes a chance to benefit from the program is important to Kelly.

And even those who were part of that record-setting team are subject to the occasional Special Olympics sales pitch. Fresh from Las Vegas and all of its wonders, one of Kelly’s star athletes found himself during the same practice session listening as Kelly encouraged him to expand his Special Olympics repertoire and give tennis another try.

Following a big trip with outstanding results, it would have been easy to take a break from the workouts for a week or two, to rest on the laurels of three champions and be quite satisfied.

Bringing in rookies to the powerlifting team would mean more work for Kelly, who volunteers for the coaching job and winds up with plenty of travel and other expenses in the bargain.

Competition and medals are what the team and Kelly shoot for. There’s no joking about how seriously they’re taking the sport.

But getting more athletes involved in Special Olympics ranks as an even more important goal for Kelly. Bringing in more people for the trips, memories, lessons, motivation and camaraderie is his highest goal, even if it might jeopardize his team’s undefeated record in 2011.

The Suffolk Special Olympics and Kelly are currently working to plan and produce The Suffolk Games, scheduled to be held May 19.

The volunteers are organizing powerlifting, tennis, track, golf and bocce competitions, and they are working to add swimming events the following day.

All of the sports will be competitive, since that’s the way to draw the most lessons and memories out of sports. But it’s still the Special Olympics. Even more important than winning is the simple act of participation, bringing more people into the Special Olympics family as coaches and/or volunteers, so there can be more athletes. That’s how Kelly will define true success.