Students volunteer at Special Olympics Winter Games


Athletes celebrate as they receive their awards for the snowshoe race at the Grand Traverse Resort on Feb. 5, 2016. 922 athletes competed in the 2016 Winter Games.

Traveling more than two hours and spending several days in the cold and snow, Central Michigan University students helped put on one of the biggest Special Olympics Winter Games games in the country. 

About 100 students volunteer to help run it each year, said Kellie Jean Murphy, sports and training coordinator of Special Olympics Michigan. This year, the event was held in Traverse City. About 111 student volunteers and about 921 athletes came to volunteer and compete. 

This year's athlete total surpassed last year's total of 915, Murphy said.

“Without the help of these CMU students this event would not be possible," Murphy said. "They work from sun up to sun down for four days to provide an amazing experience for our athletes. In exchange, the volunteers get an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.” 

In order for students to volunteer at the Winter Games, they must be one of the first 100 people to sign up and attend a meeting which details what a volunteer is going to do for the duration of the games. CMU also offers a Special Olympics class that lasts for five weeks. If students want to volunteer for a long period of time, they have to complete online training.

Volunteers are assigned to work one of six venues: alpine skiing and snowboard, cross country skiing, snowshoe, skating, indoor special events or outdoor special events. Their jobs range from set up and tear down to score-keeping, time keeping, announcing events and giving awards at the end of the competition, Murphy said.

Alyssa Bellamy, a volunteer and President of Special Olympics College at CMU, has coached and worked with the Special Olympics for the past four years, making this year her last. This year, she worked on cross country skiing. She timed the events, recorded scores, and cheered on the athletes.

“My favorite part would be seeing one of my Special Olympics athletes from Area 7 (Mount Pleasant) win three gold metals. Seeing him do so well made me really happy and emotional,” Bellamy said. “The atmosphere of Special Olympics is a magical feeling and it is nearly impossible to walk away without having your heart changed and screaming for more.”