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UNI makes a difference with Special Olympics Iowa

Special Olympics Iowa

In January, 400 athletes, 200 coaches and chaperones, and 300 volunteers attended the Special Olympics Iowa Winter Games in Dubuque. More than 50 of those volunteers were students from the University of Northern Iowa.

In 1986, Joe Wilson, associate professor of health, physical education and leisure services, was asked to help run the games. Gradually, Wilson began bringing student volunteers to the event and has since made it an annual volunteer opportunity.

UNI students helped run two downhill events: cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. "It gives the students the chance to get experience working with people who are disabled," said Wilson.

Wilson has participated as a volunteer with the Special Olympics in many different positions since the games started in 1968. "I've enjoyed it because I've seen people change and grow up a lot after being a part of the Special Olympics," said Wilson, who currently serves as the area director of Special Olympics Northeast Iowa.

"Volunteering for Special Olympics is important because I know how important the games are to the athletes," said Alex Kading, Special Olympics volunteer and senior majoring in leisure, youth and human services.

Throughout each year, UNI students volunteer for the Special Olympics in many different ways. In 2010, students even created a special 13-foot cauldron sculpture that served as the focal point for the opening ceremony.

Recently, athletes of the Olympics gathered at the UNI-Dome to take part in events for the Special Olympics Northeast Iowa Spring Games. With the help of more than 450 volunteers, athletes participated in track and field events at the Dome and aquatic events at the Wellness and Recreation Center.

Special Olympics Iowa gives students the opportunity to help their community, work with people who have disabilities and discover new passions. "Wherever I go, the memories, the friendship and experience will be there," said Kading.

Visit the Special Olympics Iowa website at for more information and upcoming activities.