2020 has been a year marked by innumerous challenges, changes in pace and shifts in the way traditions and routines are implemented in communities. Normally a time of year when streets are cleared for holiday parades and calendars are filled with end-of-year celebrations, significant adaptations have been made to ensure that the spirit of the season remains. This holds true for athletes of Special Olympics Catawba County, who were the guests of honor at their local program’s drive-thru celebration and parade, honoring their commitment to Special Olympics, despite the obstacles presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, November 14, Special Olympics Catawba County volunteers practiced safe social distancing in lining a local street leading to a community church’s parking lot. Throughout the afternoon, athletes were invited to drive through the celebration route, remaining in their cars, while hearing cheers of their name. Upon pulling into the church parking lot, they received a goodie bag packed with Special Olympics gear.
Special Olympics Catawba County volunteer Lori Anne Whitman was instrumental in the planning of this celebration. Wanting to recognize athletes and their annual achievements, Whitman and a team of volunteers were innovative in their approach to delivering that sense of accomplishment.
“We ordered T-shirts, hats and visors with choices in different colors,” said Whitman. “Because pretty much everything was cancelled, we wanted them to be able to have something. We wanted everyone to keep Special Olympics in mind, which is why we made shirts.”
With nearly 40 Catawba County athletes participating in Special Olympics North Carolina’s 10-week, virtual training program Partner Up Power Up, attendees of the celebration were overjoyed at the opportunity to finally see each other in person, at a safe distance.
A Special Olympics parent herself, Whitman’s son, Jason, was more than ready to see his teammates, even from separate cars. One of the nearly 45 athletes who attended the event, Jason was one of many to experience the excitement of his very own fan club.
“A group of volunteers stood on the main road corner, people were honking for us,” explained Whitman. “Some even stopped and gave donations. Then, athletes drove through, we yelled their names and they got their goodies.”
Outfitted with colorful pom-poms, cowbells, streamers and balloons, this event had all the makings of any successful celebration. Radiating festiveness and promoting positivity, the volunteers of Special Olympics Catawba County took their roles as cheerleaders to a new level, encouraging attendees to maintain their commitment as athletes, no matter the circumstance.