That is the motto of the Special Olympics, and it was in full evidence this weekend for the annual Fall Festival held at Villanova University.
It is my favorite weekend at Villanova, and each year I leave impressed both with the athletes as well as with the Villanova students.
Held during the first or second weekend in November since 1989, the campus hosts over 1,000 athletes, 400 coaches, 4,000 volunteers, and the many corporate sponsors and media outlets that will provide coverage for the event. A committee of 90 students meets year-round to organize every aspect of the Festival, from staging ceremonies, to managing the budget, to coordinating the thousands of volunteers. The athletes who participate in the Fall Festival will compete in six Olympic-type sports: bocce, long-distance running, power-lifting, roller skating, soccer, and volleyball. All housing and meals for the weekend are provided by Special Olympics Pennsylvania and Villanova University.
The center of campus is transformed into Olympic Town, which provides entertainment and recreational fun for all athletes attending the Festival. The photo above is a shot of Olympic Town. Yes, there was even a hot air balloon this year.
The event also has a Healthy Athletes venue staffed by local health practitioners that provides a multitude of health screenings for the athletes. The screenings include hearing, vision, dental, podiatry, and general health. Perhaps one of the more amazing benefits provided to the athletes is that if it is determined that they need a new pair of prescription glasses, they are made for them right there and available to the athletes in an hour. For those who don’t need prescription glasses, the vendor provides sunglasses or sports goggles, and all of this at no cost to the athlete.
The highlight of the weekend for me is simply watching the interaction between the athletes and the Villanova students. Many of the athletes and students remember each other from prior years, and many Villanova alumni come back to campus just for this event each year to reconnect with the athletes.
One of the common themes I noticed throughout the weekend was dancing. The athletes and students love to dance. Here is a short video of students and athletes dancing in the aisles while waiting for the start of one of the award ceremonies.
I also caught sight of a dance break out in-between soccer games this morning, followed by having the athletes run through a gauntlet that the students created for them, sharing high-fives the whole way thought the line.
One other highlight today was the flash mob by the Local Program Hosts that broke out in Olympic Town.
Watching the students run through the crowd at the end and start dancing with the athletes captures what the weekend is all about. Everyone comes out a winner.
This is the fourth write-up of my experiences at the Fall Festival (I have no idea why I did not write up last year’s event…):