Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Winnie Downey

#50for50: Volume 35
▪️ Winnie Downey
▪️ 51 years old
▪️ Delaware County

“I’ve lived in Delaware County my whole life. I was first introduced to Special Olympics in elementary school. We did track and field — the 50-yard dash, the softball throw and the broad jump. We got ribbons, we didn’t get medals at the time. Back then, when you were Special Ed, you were kind of in a class by yourself. You weren’t exposed to the kids not in Special Ed. They made fun of you and they just made you uncomfortable. And I don’t think a lot of them understand what we go through. And Special Olympics, back in the mid-70s, you didn’t hear about going to Penn State or going to Villanova. They said ‘Don’t play with them kids. They’ve got special needs, they’re stupid.’ And today, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s playing together. They’re all playing together. … So after elementary school, I went off to middle school and high school and I didn’t get back involved until 2002. That’s when I started to play softball, soccer, bowling and volleyball. My all-time favorite memory was from 2011. We were playing Berks County for the gold in softball. We tied it up, it was 8-8, and when we went out in the field, they scored 10 runs. So it was 18-8 and we went to hit and ended up winning, 19-18, on a walkoff. I didn’t even play much that game, I sat on the bench. But I didn’t care. It was the best highlight I remember. We were so happy that day. It was like we won the World Series. For me, that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s a big accomplishment to say, ‘I did a good job.’ I don’t display my medals because they’re in my keepsake box. … I like being an Athlete Leader and a Global Messenger. Two years ago I went to Washington, D.C. and spoke with Senators and members of the House of Representatives. We got to walk around the city and had a really good time. I hope our message got across. I got to meet Stephen Colbert. I gave him a pair of socks, they were 50th Anniversary socks for Special Olympics, and then I got my picture taken with him. That was such a highlight. We had a ball. He was very nice. He shook my hand and then I found out two weeks after that that he was a good Catholic, so my mother would have loved him. … I see change happening for the good. A lot of schools have Best Buddies or Unified teams. And I helped to get Unified bocce into Archbishop Carroll. I came back from the Leadership Conference and called my nephew Matt’s school and talked to his teacher. And with the help of Mike [Bovino], we got Unified bocce into the Archdiocese [of Philadelphia] and I was so proud when they started to play. … I became an Athlete Leader because I don’t want my nephew Matt’s generation and my nephew Owen’s generation — I don’t want them to be behind a wall anymore. Like how Eunice Kennedy Shriver said that she didn’t want her sister behind a wall. I don’t want them being treated like second-class citizens. I want to be a leader so the next generation can take over and learn leadership from me or other people. I just want to get the word out that you’re no different than anybody else. That you’re not lost in the world. You’re part of this world just like I am. I want Special Olympics to keep going for the next 50 years, to keep it going so nobody has to be behind a wall. I want my nephews to experience going places, like I did, and hopefully someday go to National or World Games and I want to make them realize that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Kailey Jefferson

#50for50: Volume 34
▪️ Kailey Jefferson
▪️ 23 years old
▪️ Schuylkill County

“I started in 2013 for volleyball. One of my friends told my mom about it and I was like ‘Cool, I want to try it.’ It sounded interesting. And when I did start, it was a lot of fun because I got to know people really quickly. I didn’t compete my first year at all, I was just practicing. We didn’t really have enough people to compete, but the second year is when I started doing bowling and softball and stuff. My first competition for volleyball was in Hershey and we got a gold medal. I couldn’t go to Penn State because I had high school graduation. But the next year I got to go and I got 4th and I met some Penn State Football players and stuff and it was a lot of fun. I even met Sue Paterno at the dance. … The family atmosphere is my favorite — being really close with your friends, meeting people at competitions. I even got to carry the banner one year for my county at Penn State. … One year I met one of my favorite Penn State athletes, a volleyball player by the name of Nia Reed. I’ve been a fan of Penn State Volleyball for the past two years and I love every minute of it. This past year, I was a guest assistant coach for a day. I got to go to practice in the morning and then I got to go to dinner with them and stuff. And then I went down on the court after the game and I saw some of the players. I got to know one of my other favorites, Serena Gray, and she even gave us tickets to one of the games and the seats were really good. My favorite part was getting the group picture after the practice with all the athletes. And to meet the assistant coach, Katie [Schumacher-Cawley]. She is really nice and I’m still in contact with her and I talk to her sometimes. … I really like Broadway, musical theater type stuff. I’ve seen four different Broadway shows, Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Les Miserables and Come From Away. I got to go backstage when I saw Cats for my 21st birthday. I like nature photography, too. When I first got my phone I started taking pictures. I didn’t get a phone until after I graduated high school, and maybe a year or so after that is when I started getting really into taking pictures. I look for if the sky is really cool or birds or flowers that are really pretty. Or creating your own photography, like bubbles or animals — if you can get them. Which, I’ve learned to take animal pictures because of my dog, Jackson. He’s five years old and has his own Instagram. Last year, I helped out Sally at Summer Games [with the therapy dogs] Max and Lacey. I was making sure they wouldn’t get into trouble and helping with leashes, giving them water and greeting the athletes when they would come up to see them. … I hope to maybe work some day. Maybe something in the floral industry or a greenhouse. Or be a professional photographer, maybe. I love the ocean, the beach, and being around my family. When I do competitions, they come and cheer me on. Especially at Penn State. The last day, my brother and dad and two aunts and uncle would usually come and cheer. … Our county doesn’t have too many athletes. I would love to try and get more people involved, but it’s kind of hard. Softball this past year we didn’t have anyone, which was really sad because I really wanted to do it. And we didn’t have any volleyball this year either because we didn’t have a coach. I hope we’ll be able to do it in the fall again if it’s not too bad with the coronavirus.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Katie Miller

#50for50: Volume 33
▪️ Katie Miller
▪️ 42 years old
▪️ Berks County

“It was in 2008 when I first got involved. I hadn’t played volleyball before that and I was looking for social activities to do. It was kind of different, only because I was kind of shy. And I didn’t have many friends in high school. When I started Special Olympics, I had one friend and then I became friends with a lot of other people throughout the county and the state. … Going to Villanova for Fall Festival was really neat. Seeing the basketball players and Jay Wright was really cool, too. I’m actually a Duke fan, though, but I liked seeing the players and I liked being with my friends and being able to compete and be with the coaches. … I did soccer and then I did floor hockey. And this year I did bocce. I’ve done swimming for a couple of years and I did basketball and then softball. It was kind of difficult going from swimming to softball because we had practice on the same day. But I did that for two seasons. I’m gonna go with softball as my favorite sport. We run the bases, we do throwing, we do hitting and I really liked the commercial we did once. And we also practice with the Reading Fightin’ Phillies. We’d go to the ballpark and practice with them and there were a couple of Fightin’ Phils who went on to play for the Philadelphia Phillies. I know a couple of them. One time at Kutztown I had a great catch in left field and everyone was jumping up and down. It was a line drive, I had my glove up and I caught it. … I’m also Global Messenger and Athlete Representative for Berks County. I had to apply and we went through a lot of training. I was a little nervous at first when speaking. But when I was in high school my dad helped me a lot with public speaking. He taught me how to vocalize my volume, to speak up more, because I am soft spoken. I spoke at the Opening Ceremonies at Kutztown and Stroudsburg and at Alvernia in a classroom with a professor. She sat next to me at Kutztown and then asked me to come into her class and speak about Special Olympics with her students. She was a sports education teacher. … I’m proud to be a Special Olympics athlete. I always put the motto in my speeches. I always find a way to work that in. One time I spoke at a Division III Ice Hockey championship banquet. I started speaking, but I lost my place. But then I pulled it back together and that brought them to their feet. They really enjoyed my speech. … I work at Prospectus Berco three days a week. We do assembly work and package food items, too. They have a flour room where we weigh flour. I’ve been there for two years. I also help kindergarten teachers at my local elementary school. I put books together, sort math papers and whatever else they need me to do. I also help babysit my nephew three days a week. I try to fit everything in. I do daily chores and coloring and watch sports on TV and do gardening work. I really like spending time with my family and being around my friends.”

Return to Activities Webinars

As our state continues to take steps to reopen safely, Special Olympics Pennsylvania has developed a Return to Activities plan. The most important priority reflected throughout is the health and safety of all of our participants: athletes, Unified partners, coaches, volunteers, family members, caregivers and staff.
Our plan aligns with guidance from the State of Pennsylvania, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Special Olympics International (SOI). We thank all of you who helped develop this plan. The full plan is being finalized for distribution the third week of July. You are highly encouraged to join an upcoming training webinar to learn about the plan. See the schedule below:

◼️ Managers, Assistant Managers, Sport and Competition Coordinators, Training Coordinators and COVID-19 Coordinators* Webinar
🔹 Tuesday, July 21st, 7-9 pm; REGISTER IN ADVANCE FOR THIS MEETING HERE: https://bit.ly/2OrMzsv

◼️ Coaches and COVID-19 Coordinators* Webinar
🔹 Thursday, July 23rd, 7-9 pm; REGISTER IN ADVANCE FOR THIS MEETING HERE: https://bit.ly/3eEw0UV

◼️ Athlete and Family Webinar
🔹 Friday, July 24th, 7-9pm; REGISTER IN ADVANCE FOR THIS MEETING HERE: https://bit.ly/396kDDR

*Each training site must have a designated COVID-19 Coordinator. A COVID-19 Coordinator (either the coach or another volunteer) will conduct a basic screening protocol prior to each practice and have several additional responsibilities.

In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns, please contact Chelsea Hammell (chammell@specialolympicspa.org).

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Gail Morning

#50for50: Volume 32
▪️ Gail Morning
▪️ 36 years old
▪️ Bucks County

“I was 5 years old when my mom was putting me on track and field. And from there I did tennis, bowling, swimming, bocce and powerlifting. They told me to keep practicing and to continue doing it. But track is not my favorite sport, so I didn’t continue but my favorite sports are swimming, powerlifting and bocce. When I was 15, I started powerlifting. Coach Rick in Philly, I’ve known him since I was a baby, was the coach and he worked with us. I didn’t know much about it before I joined, but we kept practicing and learning and getting better. When I first walked in it was a little difficult. It was different. I didn’t know how to do deadlift or bench. And we kept making the weights heavier and heavier. But eventually, I lifted 275kg in Dublin, Ireland. … We got picked to go [to World Games] for weightlifting and coach Sean was our coach. It was a long trip. Opening Ceremonies was shocking. It was shocking because my heart was beating so fast. Me and my dad travel out of the county, so we were used to that part, but this was my first time to go to Special Olympics World Games. It was different. I liked it. It was so green. There were lots of sheep and the people were very friendly. I got three gold medals and coach Sean was being goofy in the hotel. He would knock on the doors and say “room service” and then flipped our beds over. And we were running down the hallway. I felt proud of myself. I think I put in eight weeks of practice and I trained for an hour every Sunday. … On June 1st, 2007, they had a send-off party for World Games and they asked me if I wanted to work at TGI Friday’s. So I said yes, and I’ve been working there ever since — for 13 years. Right now, I pretty much do everything except for being a server and a cook. I like it. … In swimming, I do long distance. I do the 400, the 800 and the 1500. And in 2007, I went to China [Summer World Games] for swimming. I got one 6th, two 4th and one bronze. The best part was the fireworks and the Opening Ceremonies. I loved making new friends and meeting people there. … I’m also a Global Messenger. We had to go to a training camp with my mentor and they helped us to learn how to do Global Messenger. So we did that for three or four days and then we came home. We learned how to write out our speeches. I went to Philly, one of the hotels, and they did an auction and a talk and I spoke at that. I did a golf outing. I did the Knights of Columbus meeting. … We also got to go to Egypt in 2013 to help Special Olympics Egypt athletes learn how to swim. They had two athletes and two coaches. And coach Alice was with us for swimming. They gave us a first class flight and we did sight-seeing, we went to the pyramids, we went to the museums, I rode on a camel. That was different. Coach Alice told me how to show the swimmers what they should do and then they followed me and they did what I did.”