Jared Vinansky took hold of his bowling ball and slowly walked toward the end of the lane. The air was thick with tension, nerves and excitement, but Jared was focused. His arm swung backward with ball in tow and with a flick of the wrist, the ball began rolling down the lane.
One pin down, then four pins, seven pins, and it’s a strike!
The crowd cheered loudly for Jared, but he heard his parents the most clearly as he stepped forward to see his Unified Partner beaming at him. He challenged her to get a strike, too. They may be Unified Partners, but they still compete with each other. After all, that’s what brothers and sisters do.
For the Vinanskys, Special Olympics is all about family. After moving to North Carolina eight years ago, each of them wanted to find some way to get involved with Special Olympics Union County. Becoming her brother Jared’s Unified Partner was just one way Leah Vinansky decided to be a part of the Special Olympics movement.
“Leah actually started as our bocce coach,” explained Special Olympics Union County coordinator Tricia Thomas. “But the first opportunity they had to become bowling Unified Partners, they jumped on it.”
Special Olympics Union County’s bowling program is only about five years old, and the Unified aspect of the sport was even more recently added. The program has grown significantly, with more bowlers wanting to be on Unified teams.
Unified Partners are two people, one with an intellectual disability and one without, who compete together and encourage each other during competition, and the Vinansky siblings are no exception.
“Leah really pumps him up and he gets very excited about it,” said bowling coach Chuck Dellinger. “But when Leah got very nervous at SONC’s Summer Games this year, Jared was able to calm her down.”
The encouragement between siblings goes beyond just a simple, “You’ve got this!” Their commitment to their team and family is a driving force. Jared has had Unified Partners before, but he believes there is something different about partnering with his sister.
“I keep Leah in check when she is nervous,” said Jared. “But I think I learn a lot from her, too, like how to get strikes and spares.”
“It’s amazing to see them practice and compete together,” said Jared and Leah’s mother, Marilyn. “They’re not afraid to tell each other how it is or when to step it up, but they also know that no matter how they play, they are just happy to play together.”
A long time Special Olympics volunteer and coach, Leah has been thrilled to take on a new role as a Unified Partner. It is just the icing on the cake that her partner is her own brother.
“For me, the Unified movement is very exciting,” explained Leah. “I love seeing Jared succeed, but even more it has been wonderful to watch the movement bring a lot of families together, bring out more advocates, and have more connections made.”
And it isn’t just the Vinanskys— the Special Olympics Union County bowling program is just like one big family, explained Jared. They all work together to learn new techniques, improve their games and cheer on each other. With eight new Unified bowling teams, the camaraderie has grown and they all make an effort to bond outside of practice. Recently, they all went to a Special Olympics NASCAR event together, making memories that Jared will keep for a lifetime.
However, despite the family fun, the Vinanskys still mean business when it comes to the game. From weekly practices to two state-level competitions as Unified Partners, this dynamic duo makes the most of their time together.
With that dedication, they have showed North Carolina that they are in it to win it. Receiving gold at the 2016 SONC Summer Games and silver at the 2017 SONC Summer Games, Jared and Leah are gunning for a chance to go to the Special Olympics North America Bowling Championship one year.
But no matter the sport or the final score, the Vinanskys are always there for one another. Jared and Leah’s father Robert has even joined the Unified movement as a bocce Unified Partner. There is no role in Special Olympics that they won’t try if it means they get to be together. When it comes to this family, Special Olympics is truly a family affair.