Winning isn’t everything: Special Olympics opens many doors
It also gives athletes a chance to travel. Murray, who will turn 26 this month, has already traveled to Ireland as a member of Team USA’s all-women soccer squad. Murray said she will always remember the thrill of walking into the stadium and hearing the welcome from “all of Northern Ireland,” as well as the cheers of thousands of spectators and wellwishers.
Murray said it was the trip to the Emerald Isle that made her feel what it was like to be part of a celebrated team. “When I went to Ireland, walking into the big stadium, I saw what it was like,” Murray said. “It was breathtaking.”
Murray met athletes from Australia to Zimbabwe.
“Just, wow,” she said. “I was honored to be picked.”
Marsh, 23, has made a name for himself in powerlifting. He was invited to compete with the national team and flew out to Nebraska for the event. He was included after his fourth year in competition, and that was a huge honor, he said.
But travel and adventure are not the primary reason why Marsh and Murray play. Both said the appeal of Special Olympics comes from the feeling they belong. As athletes, they say, they’re just like anyone else.
“It’s amazing they have an organization for people who are disabled but able to compete at a level where normal people can compete at,” he said. “I see myself like everyone else. I want to be treated like everyone else.”
“I just want to mention this,” said Murray, who then recited the Special Olympics motto. “‘Let me win, but if we cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’ That motto sums it all up.”
Murray said the best part is when she is with all of her teammates, delivering those words together. “Being there in that moment, shining with all the athletes on the team, all of us saying those lines. We all together as a team feel that we accomplished something.”
Murray compared the other Special Olympics athletes, volunteers and coaches to family. Asked if the athletes help one another, she confirmed the atmosphere is friendly.
No one teases another athlete at Special Olympics, Marsh said.
Marsch has participated since he was 7 years old. While there are some, he says there aren’t many athletes who can overcome their physical disabilities over time. However, he is in that small group.
Marsh has spinal bifida. Most of the time he wears leg braces and uses crutches, but not on the field or on the basketball court. “I played without my crutches. I ran with everybody else,” he said.
Murray was born with Down syndrome but has overcome her disability, partly by writing. She has published a book of poems and gives public readings. She has from time to time experienced some balance problems, she said, and the exercise helps her.
“I need to walk,” she said. When Murray is not working at her job or working out with the Special Olympics teams, she logs the miles in Jamestown. She plays softball, basketball and soccer. She also competes in track and field.
Murray says she will go to the summer games at the University of Rhode Island in June. She isn’t sure which event she will enter because the coach will make the selection.
Murray and Marsh have played on the same teams but they don’t train together. The North Kingstown organization is so big, he said, the coaches field multiple teams in every sport.
Basketball, for example, has four teams. It’s just the luck of the draw whether he and Murray end up on the same squad for a given season.
Asked if she signed up for Special Olympics because she saw the opportunity to play, she said no.
“No, I did not look forward to play, honestly,” she said. “I was there because I needed a social outlet, and it was a great opportunity for me.”
Murray says she has made lifelong friends with other athletes, volunteers and coaches. And physically, the exercise helped strengthen her trunk.
“I was really weak,” she said. “I’m still overcoming it every day of my life.” The exercise helps improve her balance.
Murray also traveled with the Special Olympics to Ames, Iowa, for a track and field competition. She started participating in Special Olympics when she was 8.
She runs relay races in track, and also plays second base on the softball team. She said she is always looking for a new sport to try. She’s even tried bowling, she said.
Special Olympics, under head coach Lisa McKay, has also developed into a feeder system for North Kingstown High’s successful unified sports programs. According to Peter Maroni, who coaches the unified basketball team, the athletes are essentially playing all year round, and they’re ready to go when the season starts.