Changemakers: Special Olympics volunteers make games special for athletes

SEATTLE - It’s the biggest multi-day sporting event in the city in the past 25 years, and it wouldn’t be possible without the help of more than 10,000 volunteers.

Just days away from the Special Olympics USA games, a recent visit to Team Washington’s training camp revealed an army of dedicated helpers.

Tom McCann has been involved for the past eight years and was recently named Special Olympics Washington Volunteer of the Year.

“I don’t need the recognition,” he said. “I get more out of this than I give. I'll tell you that.”

Mike Smith agrees.

“We’re pretty much married to Special Olympics,” he said.

Smith’s been volunteering for the past 26 years. He doesn’t just wear that passion on his sleeve, he’s got the Special Olympics logo tattooed on his arm.

“I love being with the athletes,” he said.

Huskies legend Damon Huard made an appearance at training camp as well, giving the athletes a pep talk.

“Just wanted to support them,” he said. “And tell them how much we as Washingtonians, we’re rooting for them and we’re behind them.”

He’s not the only former pro to help out.

Seahawks legend Jordan Babineaux owns a fleet of wheelchair accessible vehicles and is transporting some of the athletes to the games.

“It’s empowering to see that despite whatever physical limitations or cognitive disabilities, these athletes love to compete,” he said.

For detective Leann Whitney of the Renton Police Department, it’s about giving.

“Money is always greatly appreciated, but time as well,” she said. “Athletes see this, and they see people out here supporting them, and it just means the world to them.”

Athletes like Keilana Hamper, who is geared up for next week’s games.

“If you think positive,” she said. “You’ll get that gold medal.”

Many volunteers happily donate 20-plus weekends per year, including Rich Schreiner.

“If you’re going to spend your time doing something,” he said, “you want to do something that’s going to make a difference and feel like it’s worth it… and this does.”

Athlete-turned-volunteer coach Colton Schmidt says it’s all about the relationships.

“I make a lot of friends playing sports,” he said. “A lot of friends. A lot of memories.”

The dedication shown by all the Special Olympics volunteers is why Q13 News chose to recognize them as Changemakers in our community.

Special Olympics USA Games says more than 15,000 people signed up to volunteer for the games next week, but Special Olympics Washington could always use more.

If you’d like to make a difference, go to specialolympicswashington.org.