NORTH ADAMS - Student-athletes at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts woke up early Sunday morning not to get in early practice, but to help train participants of the Special Olympics.
The Special Olympics Testing Recreational Activity and Improving Nutrition (TRAIN) event, which brought athletes ranging from 8- to 53-years-old, was put on by the school's Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and according to Dot Houston, MCLA's assistant athletic director, students from a wide variety of men's and women's sports participated.
While students strive to do well in the classroom and in sports, they also strive to give back to the community, she said.
"It's our first time doing it," Houston said. "I'm hoping it will be an annual event through the athletic department."
Each participant was paired with an MCLA student athlete, who guided them through various strength and conditioning stations including, vertical leap, push-ups, throwing, step-up, sit and reach, soccer and tennis ball toss, as well as three educational nutritional stations. A computer database at the end assessed participants and revealed what sport they would be best at.
Sophomore Martha Pratt, who attended a TRAIN event in Salem, Mass., with other SAAC students, said that while the Salem event didn't do much measuring of participants, the MCLA event measures athletic ability and shows weaknesses, strengths, and where to improve. "I love it," she said of the event.
LeeAnn Pettus, said her 20-year-old son, Alex, has Down syndrome and difficulty with weight. She said she was happy about the nutrition component of the program and that instilling healthy habits for Alex's lifetime is very important to her.
"I think it's a wonderful experience for college students," she said.
Although it had been difficult finding sporting events for Alex, Pettus said he now has many more physical activities he can do. Aside from being a part of a regular bowling league, he works out at a gym twice a week with a trainer.
Joanna Gallivan brought her 14-year-old son, Charlie, who was diagnosed with autism when he was nearly 3years-old. Charlie, who will be participating in the Special Olympics in Great Barrington on May 1, started training at Hoosac Valley High School and will be doing track and throwing.
"Why not give it a shot?" Gallivan remembers thinking about the Special Olympic events.
Donna Narey said her 8year-old son, Cole, will be participating in tennis at the Special Olympics at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield. The MCLA event was their first total experience with the Special Olympics.
"He loves all the attention he's getting right now from all the college kids," Narey said.
Narey said the goal for Cole, who has Down syndrome, is to participate with his two older brothers who play tennis. Interacting with everyone in the event was a learning experience for him.
Sophomore Alyson Stolz said she loves being involved and that her uncle, who is mentally challenged, comes to all of her basketball games.
"He's taught me so many things about life," she said. "The little things matter. Be compassionate, be passionate. I can't tell you how much a difference he has made in my life."
Stolz wanted to show that people are compassionate while representing MCLA and showing they do more than play sports.
"We love what we do and we want them to love it, too," she said.
The event was a collaboration with Division III of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). For more information on the Special Olympics, NCAA, and the TRAIN program, visit specialolympics.org and ncaa.org.