[From August 2021 to May 2022, The Decade of Inclusion interview series will capture the past, present and future of the partnership between Division III and Special Olympics. This is the eighth article in the 10-part series. Stay tuned to hear how the lives of student-athletes and Special Olympics athletes have been impacted over time, what is happening currently, and what’s still to come.]
When Olivia Ingalsbe arrived at SUNY New Paltz to play for the women’s soccer team, the foundation of Special Olympics was already cemented on campus. Throughout her time as a student-athlete and as Vice President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) her mission was to make an impact so that after graduation her legacy would continue.
“I first got started with Special Olympics through being on the soccer team at SUNY New Paltz,” Ingalsbe says, about her start. “When I was a sophomore, a senior on the team was the President of SAAC and they had a Unified basketball program, so she got involved in that. From there I became more involved with SAAC and some of the other Special Olympics initiatives that we have.”
On campus, the SAAC, and the Special Olympics Unified Sports® program partnered up long before Ingalsbe was a student, but she says they now “have a great relationship with the (Unified basketball) team and coach”.
Junior lacrosse player Aidan Gregory also got his start with Special Olympics through SAAC when his coach recommended it to him. At first, Gregory “wasn’t very involved with Special Olympics athletes” but started hearing the buzz about all the good stuff happening. As a result, he made the switch to the community relations subcommittee to have a much bigger impact.
Both athletes, while performing at the highest level, know the lessons learned through the Special Olympics movement can last a lifetime.
Ingalsbe shares that it’s rewarding because each athlete is different and brings a unique skill set. Having such a large range in ages, its awesome to learn “how to bring out the best in everyone.” Gregory adds that working with Special Olympics athletes has taught him “to consider everyone’s circumstances” and reiterates that “everyone has different skill sets.” And it’s helped him learn how to be a better teammate to his lacrosse team.
Ingalsbe will graduate this coming May, and while she will no longer be involved physically, her impact in the Unified Sports program will carry on for Gregory to build upon. He already has plans for the year ahead.
“We’re super excited to go back in person,” Gregory says, as COVID-19 halted in-person activities. “We are looking at getting our basketball game and tournament back in-person this semester and we’re looking to partner with our Special Olympics swim team and have a swim lesson with as many athletes that attend SUNY New Paltz.”