James Madison University

JMU Hosts the Second Annual Ability Olympics

By: Lori News
Posted: May 12, 2015

On April 17th and 18th JMU faculty, students and families from all around Virginia gathered to participate in the second annual Ability Olympics. This event is designed for individuals ages 2-40 with any disability to showcase their athletic skills, while also learning in a challenging and successful athletic environment.

JMU Outreach event grew from a vision between Dr. Thomas Moran, Executive Director of Empowerment3 and Overcoming Barriers Project Director, and the Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, which hopes to create an event allowing individuals with disabilities from across the country to come to Disney and show off their skills.  Moran and Dr. Josh Pate served as co-directors of the event.

PHOTO: JMU Students volunteer

As a mostly student-run endeavor, Sarah Miller, a senior kinesiology major and education minor, and Richelle Villa, a senior psychology major and education minor, acted as the co-leaders of the event. They were in charge of outreach, volunteer management, and working with the participants.

With a 120-participant increase from last year’s Ability Olympics, extensive preparation and planning went into the event to ensure a fun and memorable time. Starting in January, Miller and Villa spread word of the event to schools and organizations encouraging participants to sign up. Then in March, they began reaching out to JMU students to get involved, which resulted in a little over 200 volunteers.
“What’s cool is that we get students from all different majors, so even though it is a new experience for them, they get excited and tell their friends, so the word just keeps growing,” explained Miller.
Villa commented, “Although me and Sarah were co-leaders of this event, we couldn't have done this without our amazing logistical team who not only help with us with outreach & planning but also helped us make sure this event ran smoothly and made it the best one yet.”

This year’s Ability Olympics offered a variety of sports such as soccer, softball, baseball, track and field, archery, golf, dance, swimming and tennis. The events were set up much like a field day event throughout multiple locations in Godwin Hall. Small soccer fields marked with cones and miniature goals were aligned outside on the grass, while other games and activities took place in the gym. Ability Olympics offered competing events like relay races in the gym and swimming challenges in the pool, however the participants also enjoyed just playing and learning new skills alongside the JMU student volunteers and their fellow participants.

MJ Dandridge has participated in multiple JMU outreach events and has attended both Ability Olympics. He says he comes to the event “because of the motivation and getting to do all the different sports.” Ryan Flynn has also participated in both Ability Olympics and he says “The best part is that it lets us meet new people and it lets us know our strengths.”

PHOTO: JMU Students volunteer

While the participants took a break from the excitement to eat lunch, JMU groups like Madison Dance, the Bluestones, and the JMU Break Dance Club performed. The JMU Men’s Soccer Team even made an appearance on Saturday dressed in uniform to play soccer with the kids and teach them some new soccer skills.

Miller says her favorite thing about Ability Olympics is seeing the smiles on the participants faces and them having fun. She explains that a lot of them have never played these sports before, so it gives them an opportunity they might not be able to get at home or school. “I also love seeing the parents laughing and having fun and I get that reward too because they love seeing their child have fun and succeed in sports.” Miller said.

The increase of participants from 40 to 160 this year proves the impact the event has on the participating families as well as the JMU community.

“I this this is has a huge impact on JMU students because a lot of them who have never volunteered come out of it saying this is awesome and they’ve never done anything like this,” Villa explained. “And for the JMU students who come back, it’s easy to see that they love working with the kids and they love seeing new kids and making that connection.”