POUGHKEEPSIE – It was a sight to behold as thousands of people from all over New York State converged on the Mid Hudson Civic Center for the opening ceremonies of the 2016 New York Special Olympics.
“Thank you for challenging men and women regardless of ability to understand that every life is valuable and everyone can achieve success”, commented Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro to a rousing applause from the thousands in attendance.
The 2016 Special Olympics kicked off with the opening ceremonies Friday night and competitions throughout the day Saturday, including figure skating at the McCann Ice Arena in Poughkeepsie.
Syracuse resident Christine O’Brien talked of her figure skating son, Finn “Finn has been in the Central New York Special Olympics program for six years,” she said with her son by her side. “When he first started, he was afraid of ice skating…and Special Olympics has brought so much to us as far as helping him learn and giving him the one on one attention he needed.
Other Olympic events included Skiing and Floor Hockey.
On Sunday, the weekend long event capped off with a Polar Plunge at Sharpe Reservation in Fishkill. The event was so big that for the first time in the 18 years of the event, organizers needed to break it out into two times, 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Chris Hamel, a Town of Poughkeepsie Police Officer and organizer of the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, has been organizing the annual February event for the past 18 years. “18 years of Frezzin’ for a Reason”, he said. These athletes work hard all year long and by the money we raise for the Polar Plunge and other events that we do, they get free athletic competitions, free uniforms , no money out of their pocket for hotel stays”, he added.
Since starting this plunge 18 years ago, the organization now has 13 plunges throughout the state that have raised over 1.8 million dollars lat year.
Brian Cosentino has been participating in the plunge for the past five years to support his nephew Callan, who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. Callan’s father Andrew Maroney is proud of the group of friends and relatives and what they’ve accomplished. “We raised over $10,000 dollars this year,” he said. “My wife Michelle and I have really made an effort to get involved with not only Special Olympics but special needs in general”. he added. Maroney most recently started a soccer program for special needs in LaGrange.
The New York Special Olympics will return to the Hudson Valley in 2017.