Medical students learn life’s lessons through volunteering for Special Olympics
Like most athletes, they are dedicated to their sport. With fierce determination and intense concentration they practice their moves hoping to shave a few seconds off their time or to perfect a graceful dance step.
The athletes of the Greater Dayton Special Olympics Roller Skating Team take their sport very seriously. And with the help of their volunteer coaches from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, they are living the Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Medical students from Wright State have been volunteering with the team for a number of years, but since 2009, they have taken on all the coaching duties for the team.
“My first year of medical school we received an email from a second-year asking for volunteers to help out with Special Olympics events,” said George Salloum, M.D., a 2011 graduate of the medical school. “I immediately knew I wanted to help out due to a long history of volunteering with mentally and physically handicapped individuals.”
Although he had only signed up to help at two practices, Salloum asked the coach if he could come every week. She was more than happy to have the help. Even though he didn’t know how to rollerskate, Salloum became assistant coach for the team.
That summer, the coach was no longer able to continue, so she asked Salloum if he’d be able to take over the team entirely. “Even though it was the start of my second year of med school, and possibly the most difficult, I was more than willing to keep the program going,” he said. “I recruited a first-year, Jason Thuener, who was strongly interested in helping out, along with some of my fellow classmates and made the entire skating program student-run.”
The team of between 15 and 20 skaters, ranging in age from about nine to their mid-60s, practice most Saturday mornings at the Orbit Fun Center in Huber Heights. The athletes compete in distance races, relay races, and even skate dancing.
“It’s so cool to see the people who could hardly skate when they first came, improve so much and be so proud,” said Hillary Voss, a second-year medical student who volunteers with the team. “You tell them how well they’re doing, and their faces just light up.”
The coaches have gotten as much from the experience as the athletes have. “I consider the skaters my friends because they’re so much fun,” said Voss. “They make me laugh, just like my friends at school make me laugh. More so sometimes.”
“You can be having an awful day or an awful week, and you go to Saturday morning practices, and it raises my day,” said Betty Cheney, MS1. “It makes Saturdays so much easier because I laugh for an hour and a half or two hours because it’s just so much fun.”
The students find coaching to be a welcome break from medical school, which can be all-consuming. “Being in medical school requires you to be selfish with your time,” said Voss. “But you originally go to medical school for unselfish reasons, wanting to help people. This is a way for me to feel more normal, and not so selfish with my time. I’m doing something to benefit somebody else and not just myself.”
People will often congratulate Salloum for doing so much for his team. “But what I say is they are the ones giving so much to me,” he says. “In more ways than I can describe in words, I honestly feel that my involvement with Special Olympics has improved my character and personality, in ways, more than medical school has.
“I owe every ounce of confidence and optimism I have gained over the past four years to my athletes, truly.” VS
The coaches for the 2010-2011 season:
George Salloum, MS4, (head coach)
Jason Thuener, MS3
Shanna Duffy and Hillary Voss, MS2
Betty Cheney and Natasha Mehta, MS1