Originally published in the Albany Times Union - By Dylan Rossiter
COLONIE — Next summer, Capital Region residents will have the chance to see Special Olympics athletes in action during the Special Olympics New York State Summer Games at Siena College and other Capital Region venues.
Neal Johnson, CEO of Special Olympics New York, announced during a press conference Thursday at the Loudonville campus that Siena will host the Summer Games in 2017 and 2018.
It will be the first time in a decade the games have been played in the Capital Region, but Siena has maintained a strong relationship with Special Olympics New York.
The women's basketball team helped a local group of Special Olympic athletes prepare for their trip to the 2007 World Games in Shanghai, where they earned a silver medal, Johnson said.
One year later, the women's volleyball team shared their senior night spotlight with the Special Olympic athletes to honor them for winning the silver medal.
"That's the type of relationship Siena has long had with the athletes and the mission of the Special Olympics," Johnson said. "So we're especially delighted and appreciative that they have reached out and asked us to bring the games here for the next two years."
Tom Mooney, 31, a Special Olympics New York athlete who began participating in the games at age 9, described the impact Special Olympics has had on his life.
"At first, I had a hard time making a shot and the basketball was so hot, but now I bang out three-pointers," he said. "Special Olympics has given me a sense of belonging. I have made many friends with other athletes and coaches as well.
"It's taught me to use courage to do what I thought I could not do."
Mooney is one of 67,162 Special Olympic athletes from across New York and 727,787 in the Northeast. Come June, up to 2,000 athletes are expected to travel to the region along with spectators, family members and volunteers.
"If you're a fan of sportsmanship, if you're a fan of dedication and hard work, you're already a fan of the Special Olympics because that's what our athletes represent each and every day," Johnson said.
Volunteers interested in helping out at the Summer Games can find more information at http://specialolympics-ny.org/