The Castleton men’s and women’s hockey teams stepped off the ice and traded in their skates for sneakers this week to practice with the Special Olympics USA floor hockey teams during the week-long training camp hosted by Castleton University.
Throughout the week, the Spartans volunteered their time in two training sessions to scrimmage the athletes and help them prepare for the 2017 World Games held in Austria this March.
“It means a lot to have our team involved with the Special Olympics,” said Castleton Men’s Hockey Head Coach Bill Silengo. “Anything we can do to help prepare the athletes before they head over to Austria is a great honor.”
Mirroring Silengo’s appreciation for the opportunity to work with the Special Olympics, Castleton Women’s Hockey Head Coach DJ Fimiani said the experience was one that his team had been looking forward to since it was put on their calendar earlier this year.
“The opportunity to help work with the Special Olympics and their preparation for the World Games is a very unique and exciting chance for our team to interact with these incredible athletes,” he said.
Fimiani added that although it was the Spartan’s role to help teach, they became the students when it came to witnessing the approach the athletes took to the game.
“Along with the pure joy and excitement the athletes bring, their pride is something we can all learn from and I feel would be the biggest takeaway from this experience,” Fimiani said.
This lesson was not lost on the Spartan student-athletes. Men’s and women’s senior captains Brock Labelle and Ashley Pelkey expressed the value of sharing their passion with such an inspirational group of athletes as they prepare for the international competition.
“Playing against the Special Olympics team was amazing and an experience that I’m very happy I had the opportunity to be a part of,” Labelle said. “Seeing the passion they play with definitely puts a perspective on my own athletic experience.”
Although working with the Special Olympics was nothing new for Pelkey, who has been a volunteer for nearly a decade, she said that sharing the experience with her teammates set this apart from her other work.
“It has been a heartwarming and eye-opening experience. Working with these athletes has brought me to remember the simple things in life and that it’s not always about winning and losing, it’s about paying attention to detail, working together as a team, and enjoying the sport you love,” she said.
The Spartans shared the athletes’ excitement to represent the United States in Austria and said they intend to support them from afar.
“We will be watching and cheering them on,” Silengo said.