Turning sorrow into purposeMom of special needs child gives back to Special Olympics
Jackie Rich’s daughter, Samantha, loved to be the center of attention, which is why she made such a great competitor in the Haywood County Special Olympics.
“She loved people, and she loved the attention when she won,” said Rich with a sad smile as she remembered Samantha, who passed away almost a year ago.
Samantha was born with a bone, joint and muscle disease, and despite living well past the age doctors expected, she succumbed to her illness at 22. Since her death, Rich has been searching for ways to bring meaning to her daughter’s life and loss, and with Special Olympics, she’s found it.
“When I was asked to help with Special Olympics, I didn’t hesitate,” she said. “It gives me a little bit of purpose.”
Rich has been working on raising funds, corporate sponsors and getting volunteers to help with the local Special Olympics organization. Because Haywood County Special Olympics meant so much to Samantha, Rich wants to see the organization live on to serve other children and adults with special needs.
“Special Olympics is a time for them to do their thing. It’s a way to say, ‘This is your day. This is your thing,’” Rich said. “They’ll be able to shine and show everybody what they can do.”
For those that participate in Special Olympics, it’s not just about the big track and field event that takes place every year in May. While all of the participating athletes work hard for the annual games, the organization provides year round activities and sports as well. From bowling and basketball to bocce and golf, the Special Olympics gives those with disabilities the chance to challenge themselves and achieve, just like any other athlete.
“(Samantha) loved to see how far she could go,” Rich said of her daughter’s love for the Special Olympics. “Just the smile on her face and just the enthusiasm was wonderful.”
In recent years, support for the local Special Olympics team has begun to wane, but Rich is determined to help County Coordinator John Gatens raise the funds and the manpower needed to keep the local group going strong.
“The Haywood County Special Olympics is not funded by the school system. It’s funded by community people,” Rich explained. “We want people to come out and support these kids.”
Rich’s business, All About You Salon, is already a sponsor, with several of the employees helping to raise funds and support in the community, but there is always a need for more volunteers and donations.
Many people might not believe they have the skills or ability to help with Special Olympics, but Rich said once people get to know the children and adults in the program, it’s a great, life changing experience.
“And what a gift that would be, just to have a few volunteers (join). To give even an hour of your time would mean so much to a special needs child,” she said, adding her daughter loved everyone and loved meeting new people. “She never met a stranger. She would want to come up to you and give you a hug. She touched so many people’s lives.”
Those who are interested in donating or participating in the Special Olympics as a volunteer can visit www.sonc.net/haywood or contact John Gatens at 456-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made directly to Haywood County Special Olympics through the organization’s Facebook page.
At the spring Special Olympics event this year, starting at 9 a.m. May 3 at the Waynesville Recreation Center’s outdoor track, Rich will be participating in the opening ceremonies with a balloon release in memory of Samantha.
Rich said she wanted to do the release to let Samantha’s Special Olympics friends know “although she’s in heaven, she’s still down there with you guys.
“There’s not a day gone by that I don’t miss her,” she said.