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Coaching for the Special Olympics

Heather Lodini, 26
Cromwell, Connecticut

What I do
I've worked with athletes ranging in age from 6 to 60. So far I've coached the track and field, bowling, and basketball teams, usually for about an hour or so a week.

Why I do it
Last year I turned 25 and I had just moved to a new city and was working at a new job. All the changes made me look at my life and I decided I needed to do something to feel more fulfilled. I ran a half-marathon. I remodeled my kitchen. But I still didn't feel satisfied, so I decided to start volunteering.

My inspiration
My Aunt Sharon, who lived across the street when I was a kid, had Down syndrome. I'd bring my friends over to visit her and every time she would pull out her Special Olympics medals. I remember thinking, "What's the big deal? I have trophies in my room, too." It wasn't until I was older that I realized how much harder she had to work for those awards.

Personal payoff
If I've had a crummy day at work, I'm tempted to just go home and watch television. But I've committed to coaching, so sometimes I have to force myself to go -- and I'm always glad I did. I'm brought to tears when I see the look of joy in my athletes' faces. They're so thrilled to succeed at something as simple as rolling a bowling ball and knocking down a few pins. It's always the highlight of my week.

Favorite memory
My first stint was working registration for a "Penguin Plunge" where people jumped into a 30 degrees F. lake to raise money for the Special Olympics. I was surrounded by hundreds of volunteers who were totally committed to helping people with special needs. There was so much positive energy that I felt truly inspired.

No excuses
I've seen the challenges people with disabilities face, so don't tell me that giving up a Saturday morning is hard. Life shouldn't be about us all the time.

Continued on page 5:  Jill Biden Talks to Us


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