UNIFY holds first annual ball

Most weekends at Norwich University, students are resting from a busy week, found in their rooms or blowing off steam off-campus. Others are found quietly studying in the library. However, a small group can be found in Andrews Hall, working out on Sunday afternoons.

Lydia Guy says that Sundays are her favorite days because of the work, and workout, she gets to do. She spends her Sundays with Special Olympic Athletes. After nearly a whole school year of Sundays spent working out, they decided to have a celebration of sorts.

On March 31, the UNIFY group on campus threw a ball for the special athletes and their mentors to celebrate the work they have done the past year, and the work they will continue to do. The theme was a masquerade ball, and guests showed up in formal dresses and suits.

The ball included a sword arc performed by members of the drill company, as well as a formal dinner. Then the special athletes, mentors, and their families spent the night dancing and taking pictures.

Anthony Rodriguez Jr, a 20-year-old communications major from San Antonio, Texas, was one of the cadets on the sword arc. Donning his most formal uniform, he said it was an “incredible honor to perform this detail,” and that he would do it “time and time again,” if he could.

“To see so many of the athletes faces light up and wanting to see our swords really was such a great experience and made the detail so special. They took pictures with us after the detail, and just seeing their faces when they got to take these prom-like photos with us really made me happy. Ultimately, being able to make someone happy makes me feel really good,” said Rodriguez.

According to the official site, UNIFY promotes being “an agent of change in your community” by promoting acceptance and respect for individuals with intellectual disabilities.” It matched the students with athletes to mentor.

“We have specific partners who work with their designated athlete, so they have paired up from the beginning. We do a mock PT test where we figure out the athlete’s ability where we figure out their ability, any restrictions they may have, things we should be conscious of. From there we figure where we’re going to work and actual PT plans that their partner makes,” said Guy, a 20-year-old exercise science major from Homer, N. Y.

Guy said that the improvement in the athletes has been visible, and when they improve it’s extremely important because it means the program is working. Guy noted one athlete who came in the program with a few limitations, and recently was able to do 10-15 perfect pushups.

“We’ll challenge them in some areas where they need improvement and be conscious of limitations. It’s very tailored to the athlete and individualized. It’s all about making them stronger within their abilities,” Guy said.

The ball is anticipated to be an annual event. Later in the school year, UNIFY is also going to get involved with the corps. UNIFY partners with the Norwich Ranger Company in the corps.

Norwich Rangers is a small unit that “develops leadership skills of selected cadets by requiring them to perform effectively as small unit leaders in a realistic tactical environment under demanding mental and physical conditions,” according to the Ranger Company website.

Aidan Gaffney, a 20-year-old criminal justice major as well as a member of the Norwich Ranger Company, works to connect the two groups by involving the company with the special athletes.

“It benefits our athletes by giving them a different viewpoint. They come to Norwich and see the military aspect of it. They see everyone walking around in ACUs and want to be a part of it. It’s really enticing to them.,” Gaffney said. Gaffney said the Norwich Rangers and athletes do special ranger PT involving items like ammo cans and litter carries.

At the end of their workouts with Ranger Company, each special athlete is awarded a Norwich Rangers tab and is inducted into the company as honorary members.

“For Ranger company, it just allows us to network out into the company and to show that we’re here to help as well,” Gaffney said.

UNIFY does not only benefit the special athletes according to Guy, but the mentors as well. Guy has been a member of UNIFY for two years and said that every week she has experiences with the athletes that make her whole week.

“They’re fantastic people, they’ll make your day with anything they say. Grace is one of our athletes, and she remembers birthdays like nothing else. Chris will come up to you and kiss your hand and tell you you’re beautiful. Others will come up to you and hug and tell you that it’s great to see you,” Guy said.

More so than just mentorship, students and special athletes also find companionship in one another. Mentors and special athletes work together every Sunday, and by spending this time together, can form a strong bond, said Guy.

“I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s definitely my favorite day, Sunday is my favorite day. [The trainers] get to mentor someone, they get to help them physically get better and also be there in companionship. A lot of our athletes love their partner. They talk about them at home, it’s a good way to have friendship and connect with people you don’t usually connect with,” Guy said.

“I was dancing with a few of the athletes and they were really enjoying us being there. The group there didn’t have a lot of people, so I think being there really was nice because there were more people to dance,” Rodriguez said the environment at the ball felt like a “real community with a lot of love and camaraderie amongst the athletes, families, and students.”

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