By: USA Games Correspondent, Tynan Gable
Special Olympics relies heavily on thousands of amazing volunteers from around the world. Some of these individuals go above and beyond in their dedication to changing the game for athletes and people in the community with intellectual disabilities.
Laurie Skinner is a long-time volunteer for Special Olympics. She started her work with Special Olympics Virginia, but has spent her last few years living and volunteering in Florida. In her short time with Special Olympics Florida, she has inspired tremendous growth and a greater sense of belonging for athletes and staff members, alike.
During the wake of despair and tragedy left by Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, Special Olympics Monroe County (Florida, USA) saw a significant decrease in participation and volunteer involvement. Athletes lost their homes, facilities were destroyed, and many of the coaches and volunteers suddenly found themselves unable to dedicate their time to Special Olympics.
“This happened right around the time of the State Games,” explained Ruth Holland, County Director. “We thought we would have to drop out of the State swimming competition completely.”
In this time of hopelessness, Laurie stepped up to the plate. She sourced a local community pool to use in place of the athletes’ normal university training facility that was closed following the violent storm.
“The pool was small and round; not at all conducive for training,” Ruth explained. “But Laurie rounded up the athletes who had qualified for State and got them in the water.”
She did this while balancing the challenges she was facing in her personal life. Laurie was out of work without pay for close to a month, trying to recover from the devastation that Hurricane Irma left behind.
“Her house and personal life were not in order, but she committed to training and preparing our athletes,” said Ruth.
At the time of the State Games, things were finally back in order for Laurie and she was geared up to get back to her normal life. However, staying true to her commitments to Special Olympics, Laurie postponed her start date to make sure her athletes had the chance to compete in the two days of swimming at Special Olympics Florida State Games.
“The commute, alone, was a huge commitment. Getting off our island takes four hours of driving,” started Ruth. “Then, there is another five-hour drive to get to the State Games facility.”
The successful trip to State in 2017 would not have been possible for the swimmers of Special Olympics Monroe County without Laurie Skinner’s persistence and support. And her involvement and impact have only continued to grow since then.
Immediately, Laurie signed up as this year’s official swim coach for Special Olympics Monroe County. She did this with the potential future plans to move off the island, but agreed to commute back for weekly practices and events.
“Even though her life was crazy, Laurie said she would do everything she could for these athletes,” explained Ruth.
Even more recently, Laurie has gotten involved in the fundraising efforts of Special Olympics Monroe County. Taking more unpaid time off work, she hosted fundraisers that amounted to a contribution of over $20,000.
Laurie is also now the bocce coach for Special Olympics Monroe County and continues to demonstrate her commitment and love for the athletes every day. She started an informal pizza night every Friday after practice, which has become a weekly high point for many of the competitors and their families.
Ruth noted that this was a huge change for many of the athletes because it allowed them to “create bonds and bring people together by providing simple social opportunities.” She went on to say that Laurie “truly embodies the values of Special Olympics.”
Laurie has formed lasting relationships with athletes and coaches from several states on the east coast. She consistently changes the game for the athletes with whom she works and refuses to back down when it comes to improving the lives of people with disabilities.
Ruth concluded, “she doesn’t just come and go; she changes lives and then maintains that impact with all the athletes she’s been involved with.”