Students Offer Helping Hand at Special Olympics


Dr. Karen Karner

Rebekah Jordan, senior Speech-Language Pathology major, gives a supportive high-five to an athlete while helping at the cornhole tournament.

Paul Tointigh, Managing Editor

For several years, USAO students have had the chance to give a helping hand in the annual Summer Games of the Oklahoma Special Olympics. This tradition of service continued as seven students traveled to Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater to help with the Special Olympics games. This was possible through the Special Olympics independent study, held by Dr. Karen Karner, associate professor of Speech-Language Pathology.

The Special Olympics were held May 17-19 at OSU’s campus and gave many with various learning disabilities the chance to showcase their athletic skill. Games held at this year’s Special Olympics included – but were not limited to – basketball, bowling, golf, bocce, cornhole, track and relay events, wheelchair races, javelin throwing, and softball.

“It’s a wonderful experience for our students every year, and I see the look in my students’ eyes,” Dr. Karner said. “There’s always one or two who have never had experience with the Special Olympics and sometimes that look is ‘what have I gotten myself into?’”

Dr. Karner, who has been teaching this class since the spring of 2014, has seen many Summer Games with many spectacular events, with this year being no exception, but has also seen the nature of the students that she takes with her every year go from a bit nervous to relaxed.

She said that over the course of the games, students naturally relax and settle into the environment. With such a busy schedule of events and with no prior experience, it would be natural to feel a bit of nerves going into the Special Olympics as a volunteer for the first time.

Though the best experience came from actually being there, students did not go into the role as volunteers completely without knowing what they would be doing.

To prepare for the event, students researched the history behind the games, and as well what they expected to experience and learn from the games. After the games were over, the students wrote another paper reflecting on their time at the games and what they got out of it.

Rebekah Jordan, senior Speech-Language Pathology major, participated in this independent study, learning that inclusivity is key in regard to her major.

“Being a Speech-Language pathologist means being inclusive and learning how to deal with the fact that every individual is different and has differing needs,” Jordan said. “I know that I can create an environment where they can be comfortable to be themselves, while I am teaching them.”

Along with the games, this year’s Special Olympics included opening and closing ceremonies, as well as a dance held at Stillwater High School’s Pioneer Stadium.

“Some will dress up, some will come with regular clothes, and they are all wearing their medals,” Dr. Karner said. “We manned the hydration station, making sure that everyone stayed hydrated, and we helped clean up the field afterwards.”

With such a big event to be a part of, the Special Olympics independent study has students who enroll and participate again, as they find it to be a very enjoyable experience. Students who decide to return for Special Olympics II give a PowerPoint presentation at the end of the Special Olympics in lieu of a pre-event research paper. This presentation includes photos from the games (taken by the student) and goes over their experience with helping for the second time.

“We have a lot of students who say it’s fun and come back to do it a second time,” Dr. Karner said. “You can take this class twice.”

Jordan agreed with Dr. Karner’s statement, recommending the class to others with an absolute “Yes!”

“Even if your career isn’t going to be associated with it, it changes your perspective on life so much that it’s so worth going and doing,” Jordan said.

Students who wish to experience another side of life and be pushed out of their comfort zone need to look no further than participating in the Special Olympics independent study.


Paul Tointigh is a fourth-year Communication major at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.