Dare County, the easternmost county in North Carolina, is a summertime hub for beachgoers and adventurists alike. Year-round, Outer Banks residents embrace a close-knit, coastal community. Sandy Pace assumed the volunteer position of Special Olympics Dare County’s local program coordinator in November of 2020, though she has been volunteering with Special Olympics in varying capacities for over 20 years. Overseeing Special Olympics activities in the nearly 110 miles of Dare County coastline, Pace defines the fulfillment of working with children and adults with intellectual disabilities as “contagious.”
As an employee of Dare County Parks and Recreation, Pace regularly recruits coworkers in fundraising initiatives and volunteering opportunities for Special Olympics programming. Two of her coworkers have even signed on to coach cheerleading. Finding the support to run the program is just one aspect of her role, prioritizing the athletes is an integral part of every aspect.
“If you want to be inspired to be your best, positive self, hang out with an athlete,” said Pace.
Dottie Patton and Caroline Parks are Special Olympics Dare County athletes, roommates and, above all, friends turned family. First introduced to Pace at a day program run by Dare County Parks and Recreation, the trio is now an inseparable support system. Pace, who lives within walking distance of Patton and Parks, joined a Tuesday night routine with them, holding each other accountable as participants in Special Olympics North Carolina’s (SONC) Partner Up Power Up, a 10-week, at-home fitness program.
Walking next door every Tuesday night throughout the duration of the program, Pace assisted in setting up Zoom sessions for Patton and Parks, readying the group for an evening of fitness training. With activities scheduled for nearly every night of the week, Tuesdays became a household favorite. After completing the workout, the three filled out their Partner Up Power Up weekly fitness tracker, which was provided to all participants as part of the training guide.
“I like Partner Up Power Up because it helps me be healthier and mostly, I get to have fun on the Tuesday night Zoom,” said Parks. “My favorite part is the dancing.”
Echoing that sentiment, Patton remarked, “Partner Up Power Up has helped me to exercise more, eat better and have fun. I love the dancing part of the Tuesday night Zoom.”
Now, with virtually every aspect of their lives intertwined, Patton and Parks did not become close friends until Patton attended Parks’ birthday celebration three years ago, marking a turning point for their relationship.
As roommates, they set up a chore chart and have assigned responsibilities for routine household chores. Patton cleans and vacuums, in addition to her other chores. Parks empties the trash, dust and cleans the bathroom. Both share in the responsibility of washing and drying dishes. It is a well-oiled machine they run together.
In addition to training and competing in athletics, bowling and equestrian, for Patton, and bocce, cheerleading, equestrian and swimming, for Parks, the two women share in many common interests outside of Special Olympics. Both graduating from College of the Albemarle’s Pathways to an Accessible College Experience (PACE) program in Dare County, they attended inclusive college courses for individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. Employing their skillset through volunteering, Patton and Parks regularly support Meals on Wheels and Dare County Parks and Recreation. They stay active through Special Olympics, but also enjoy walking nature trails, going to the gym and traveling.
In the coming months, the pair will be traveling to Nashville, Tennessee. Patton most anticipates meeting a man, much like Elvis, with sideburns, while Parks is readying herself to attend a few musical performances. In the meantime, they continue to work with Pace on reaching their fitness goals through Special Olympics, despite restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I love Special Olympics and can’t wait to see all of my friends again,” said Parks. “I love spending time with my friends,” added Patton.
Luckily, Pace is but a few steps away, completing their tripod-like support network from the comfort of home.