Volunteering with Special Olympics New York a Rewarding Experience for Cayuga Nursing Students

Nursing students from Cayuga Community College recently stepped forward to promote health education with athletes at Special Olympics New York’s Winter Games.

Saying it was a rewarding volunteer opportunity to help Special Olympics athletes improve their health choices, the students spent several hours at the February 26 event in Syracuse talking with participants. The experience to support the athletes and discuss their accomplishments at the Special Olympics was “eye-opening,” said several students.

“This was my first time volunteering with Special Olympics New York, and I’ve never realized the scope of the event,” said Cayuga Nursing student Heather Walters. “It’s not just the competition, but all the information athletes can access about proper health care. I never knew that was a part of it. It was incredible.”

Special Olympics New York is an inclusive organization providing athletic training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics provide the athletes not only an opportunity to compete, but also to build friendships, enhance their physical fitness and show their courage and character.

Eleven students from Cayuga’s Nursing program jointed other volunteers at the Special Olympics New York Winter Games, which were held at The Oncenter in Syracuse. The students shifted between different health-based stations, helping athletes answer questions about their health history and taking their blood pressure and discussing the results.

Nursing students also spent time in one-on-one discussions with athletes about healthy foods, and foods they should avoid.

“We asked them questions about some health-related decisions, and then walked them through other options that are healthier, things like eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water and exercising more often,” said student Kimberly Maitland.

The students’ conversations with the athletes were well-received, they said, with the athletes listening intently and asking questions.

“At each station, whether we were discussing healthier food options, blood pressure or their height and weight, they asked us great questions and realized we were there to help,” said Annie Knight. “As Nursing students, it was also a chance to speak with the athletes about their experiences, and to hear about how much they enjoyed the event and how they did in the competitions.”

Cayuga Professor Edie Smith said the event gave students the chance to work with a diverse population with different health situations. Not only was it an opportunity to work directly with the athletes, but it also gave students the opportunity to gain valuable experience they can draw on after earning their degree.

“From a community health standpoint, this is a great concern for individuals we serve at the local level. Having our students work at Special Olympics helped provide insight to the healthcare needs of individuals with disabilities,” she said.

For more information about Cayuga’s Nursing program, visit https://www.cayuga-cc.edu/academics/schools/health-sciences/nursing/.