NEWARK — A college athlete’s schedule is packed and includes very little downtime whether the team is in season or not. And so when practices or games aren’t being held, and off-season conditioning is over, student-athletes savor the opportunity to get away from training and blend back into the campus as “normal” college students.
But this spring, members of the University of Delaware tennis and field hockey teams decided there was something they’d rather do than sleep, study or hang out with friends – give back to the community working with Special Olympics Delaware athletes.
On April 26, the Delaware men’s and women’s tennis teams held its fourth annual clinic for local Special Olympics athletes at the UD tennis courts. And even though the clinic was held on a Friday evening when most college students are out having fun with friends, head coach Laura Travis said the fun was on the courts.
“Spending time with these Special Olympics athletes is always a refreshing reminder that there is so much more to life than the day-to-day routines in which we live,” said Travis, who first volunteered for Special Olympics as a student at UD in the late 1980s. “Everyone experienced smiles, laughter and fun while playing the sport we love. We are grateful for the opportunity.”
Sixteen athletes of varying ages and abilities who are preparing for the annual tennis tournament at June’s Summer Games relished the opportunity to not only receive tips from the college superstars, but also the chance to mingle with the players and make new friends.
“You could see that the athletes got so much more out of the experience than just learning more about the game of tennis,” said Mark Wise, SODE director of training. “But they also learned an awful lot.”
Just one night earlier in the Field House, the UD field hockey team held its eighth and final fitness class for 10 Special Olympics athletes. The idea to offer the weekly training class came about after several informal discussions between head coach Rolf van de Kerkhof and Wise about how the team could get involved in the organization.
“It was a highlight of the week for not only the Special Olympics athletes but also for all the members of the University of Delaware field hockey program,” van de Kerkhof said. “The smiles on the faces of the Special Olympic athletes, their parents, the field hockey players and coaches said it all. We all enjoyed each other’s company, were excited going to the training sessions, had tons of fun during them, and were all satisfied and tired afterward.
“As a program we are very happy and humble that we could work together with Special Olympics and assist them in a weekly training session,” he added. “We have made new friends, welcomed more fans to our program and are already looking forward to this experience again next year.”
The athletes spent 90 minutes each week participating in a variety of fitness games and activities in a circuit-training format. Activities included, among others, stretching, jogging, medicine balls and skipping rope. The opportunity not only had an immediate impact on the fitness levels of the participating athletes, but also educated them about how, like the UD players, they can and should stay in shape year-round, not just when training for a particular sport.
“Fitness is critical to our athletes remaining healthy as they age,” said Newark Lightning coach Tim Kiser. “Our fitness sessions with the UD field hockey team have been a great experience because the women on the team are great motivators. Engaging the athletes and getting them genuinely interested in participating and staying fit is the key to building a foundation of fitness that they can practice as they move forward with their lives.”