SpO

Volunteers with Special Olympics Athletes.

The mission of inclusion never ends, even with Fall Festival 2020 being virtual. With the 32nd Annual Fall Fest only weeks away, a few members of this year’s Special Olympics Committee wanted to take the opportunity to shine a SpOtlight on some incredible athletes, and even better friends, that they have met throughout their years at Villanova.

Liz & Lily by Lily DuFour

At one practice freshman year, I met Liz, a seventh grade track runner who kept everyone on their toes. As a typical middle schooler, she thought she was cooler than I was, and truly she was. Now as a tenth grader, she is still active with her TikToks and Instagram Lives to keep me and her followers posted on what she is up to. Every week, I looked forward to seeing Liz and getting to know what was new in her world. We would do our weekly walk and talks and plan what her next life would look like.

From Liz, I have learned that friendship can be shown in a variety of ways. That random hug I would get after a hard practice or the ridiculous selfies that we took remind me to always look out for how to appreciate one another. Inclusion starts with opening yourself up to new relationships and trying your best to connect with one another despite challenges. Liz showed me this and I hope that we can reconnect soon.

Charley & Molly by Molly Schwarz

For so many practices, I attempted conversations with Charley in ways that I felt comfortable: with eye contact, words and concrete topics. Charley would have none of it because he did not like any of those things. He did, however, like making train sounds in order to get me to react to them. So, I started making the train noises back at him and mimicking his reactive behavior. That’s when things clicked. The usually hyperactive Charley froze when I made the sound. He asked me, “Was that a train?” and then roared with laughter.

Charley is a testament to how people like to connect in different ways. I assumed Charley would never want to be friends with me because of the way he acted towards me at practice, but, as soon as I made the effort to take a step into his world, he immediately wanted to be friends.

Inclusion is a two-way street. We have to include the athletes, but the athletes have to include us back as well. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to get to know each other, so that those unique connections can be made.

Brynne & Robbie by Brynne Wacker

Robbie is the definition of a firecracker and one of the many reasons why I have so much love for the Montgomery County Long Distance Running and Track team. When I went to my first athlete practice for this team, I was paired up with Robbie, and a smile did not leave my face for the entire two hours. Robbie will be the first one to make a joke at your expense that you can’t help but hysterically laugh at but is also the first one to give you the biggest hug and tell you how much he loves you. From singing countless karaoke songs together at Villanova Buddies, to pushing each other’s buttons at LDR practice, I feel so lucky to have met such a bright soul like Robbie. He has truly made me feel like a part of the Wicked Fast family, and I am forever grateful for our friendship.

Ryan & Steve by Ryan Weicht

Steve is one of the friendliest people I have ever met. Once you meet him, he will never forget you. Every time I see him, I am greeted with the friendliest exclamation of, “I know you!” Steve loves to chat about just anything, but one of his favorite things is pictures. Steve carries around a stack of printed photos of all of his friends and his different experiences.

Featured in his collection are lots of Villanovans and the Philly Phanatic as well. Steve loves adding photos to his collection, and he has been kind enough to invite me to be in a couple of pictures with him. He is a talented and dedicated athlete who knows how to have fun even while competing. Steve almost always has a smile on his face and is likely to put a smile on yours as well.

All of us love Fall Festival and the energy that it brings to campus each year. However, we are trying to broaden the horizons of Inclusion and spread the message that inclusion is a year-round effort. It does not end on the Sunday of Fall Fest. Rather, it begins. The Strides 5k will be taking place Oct. 1 - 4, and the Inclusion Crew will be hosting a number of meetings and events open to all students.