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DIII Special Olympics profile: Bethany College (West Virginia)

By Francesca Capaldi

Competitors and their buddies for the day show off their medals from the Special Olympics field day at Bethany (West Virginia). The event was organized by student-athlete Allison Paxton. Sam Goodge / Bethany College (West Virginia)

For Bethany (West Virginia) sophomore Allison Paxton, organizing the college’s first Special Olympics event was personal.

“This project is so close to my heart because it’s who I am,” Paxton, a psychology major on the women’s soccer and track and field teams, said in a school video about the field day held Sept. 8.

Paxton was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at a young age. She kept the diagnosis a secret because she did not want it to define her. Though she never dreamed of sharing her secret with others, through this project, Paxton was able to relate to the athletes, share her love of sports with them and share her story.

Paxton’s efforts brought the Bethany community together to highlight its theme #ONEBethany and to promote inclusion through athletics. Over 100 students from Bethany, as well as other volunteers, including from nearby Franciscan and Waynesburg universities, came out to support the field day. She credits the day’s success to the many volunteers who worked behind the scenes organizing the event and helping to set up.

Sam Goodge, executive director of student affairs, said the look on Paxton’s face at the end of the day was priceless. “Toward the end of the event, I saw a look of accomplishment because she realized what she just did for the Special Olympics athletes and our Bethany students,” Goodge said.

Goodge said the field day was his first interaction with the Special Olympics organization, and he enjoyed the love and excitement the athletes brought. He noted his favorite moment from the day. “A mom of one of the athletes broke down in tears when her son recalled a time when he sat during a baseball game,” Goodge said. “He turned to her and yelled, ‘Look at me now! I can do all of these things!’”

Bethany’s Special Olympics field day introduced youngsters to football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, golf, track and field, and cross country. Sam Goodge / Bethany College (West Virginia)

The event also gave the students at Bethany a new outlook on competing at the Division III level. “Participating in Special Olympics definitely put a lot in perspective for me,” said Riley Meyers, a teammate of Paxton’s on the soccer team and a prelaw/political science major. “The first thing, of course, made me realize how grateful to be where I am, playing the sport that I am. It’s moments like that, that kind of make you step back and realize that there are so many reasons why I play the sports that I do, and helping kids and sharing the love I have with them is one of them.”

Meyers also was impressed by the talent of the Special Olympics athletes. “It made me really sit and think about how quickly society is to write someone off because they have a disability,” she said. “Too many times do we see people getting talked down to or discouraged because they have a disability, when the truth is these athletes have the brain and the heart as everyone else and are capable of anything.”

Paxton’s goal for the end of the day was that the volunteers from Bethany left with a greater love for those with special needs and that they realized how lucky they are to attend Bethany and receive support through athletics and academics.