Special Olympics Club: A “Ramily,” “vital for the community”

Gerson Flores

Earlier this year, Colorado State University became the only university in the nation to receive the distinction of a National Banner School. 

Meanwhile, the Special Olympics Club at CSU received recognition in its own right for its efforts of inclusivity. 

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When Mallory Gustin, club president, and Lizzie Belecky, club vice president, found out about the nomination, they were expecting CSU to reach top 40 in the nation, but instead, CSU was recognized as one of the top five schools in the country for its inclusive efforts within the community.

“I was just over-the-moon excited to hear that all of our athletes were going to be recognized; our club was going to be recognized; all of the hard work we were putting in was making a difference, and this was just reinforcement,” said Belecky, a junior health and exercise science major at CSU. 

Photo courtesy of Brandon Randall, club photographer, Special Olympics Club.

Though recognition is not what Gustin and Belecky said they are looking for, it is important for them to share the club’s values with the community.

Gustin, a senior human development and family studies major at CSU, and Belecky said they believe their message and CSU’s message of inclusion and respect are closely tied together.

“It goes along well with CSU’s principle values of inclusion and integrity and respect,” Belecky said.

Gustin said this award means a lot to the Special Olympics community, especially when “less than 5% of Unified Champion Schools are universities.” 

Unified Champion Schools provide athletes with disabilities an opportunity to be involved in sports. Although not many schools offer this program, CSU’s Special Olympics Club has taken measures to ensure that doesn’t happen here, Gustin and Belecky said.  

It is one of the reasons for why Gustin and Belecky haven’t given up despite the challenges.

“It’s hard to run a club, but it’s possible,” Gustin said. “With the right community and the right helpers, it can really bring about change.”

To Gustin and Belecky, the award will hopefully serve as a boost to continue fighting for those the system doesn’t favor. While they agree society is doing a much better job to promote inclusion and opportunities, they said the system can still do more.

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“In K to 12, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have so many resources, and obviously it’s still lacking; there could be so much more,” Belecky said. “But once they graduate high school, it’s like, ‘Okay, you’re in the real world now.’” 

This award also means a lot because of the exponential growth the club has experienced, Gustin and Belecky said.

“A year ago today, we would have had four people,” Belecky said.

Today, there are 100-plus members and 20-40 active athletes participating in the club’s events. 

The club took off with a couple of people playing ball together, and its athletes never stopped giving their all, Gustin and Belecky said.

“I never go home from an event or a meeting feeling anything but excited and happy and ready to work and do more.” -Mallory Gustin, vice president, Special Olympics Club

“Kyle Emery would show up to every single flag football game when there was probably five or six people,” Belecky said. “Every week, positive attitude, ready to throw the ball around.”

Four years ago, the club was founded on the principle that students of all runs in life deserved a chance at making the most out of their college experience.

“A club like this is everything a college campus should have because it’s so vital for the community,” Belecky said. 

Gustin and Belecky host monthly meetings at the Lory Student Center, and the club members compete anywhere from the Intramural Fields to the Indoor Practice Facility on campus. 

Gustin and Belecky said they are very attentive to their athletes’ interests and concerns.

“Reach out to us, no matter how anyone would want to be involved,” Gustin said. “We’re very receptive to new ideas.”

Gustin and Belecky said spending time with the club makes even the worst days bearable, and at the end of the day, they are family, or in their own words, “Ramily.”

“I never go home from an event or a meeting feeling anything but excited and happy and ready to work and do more,” Gustin said. 

Although Gustin is graduating this year, she said she doesn’t plan on leaving the team alone and hopes the club can keep expanding and growing with the same core values it started with.

“I will always be someone to reach out to for this club, and I want to see how it gets bigger,” Gustin said. “I always want to be a part of Special Olympics in some way.”

And although the club has grown under Gustin and Belecky’s leadership, they said they can’t help but thank everyone who stuck by them since the beginning, including Adam Walsh and Jeff Franklyn, who guided Gustin and Belecky as their advisers and helped them rise above the challenges.

Gustin and Belecky said they also thank everyone who attends their events and invests time and effort into making them happen, and they thank each other for leading with passion and letting the club become their passion.

“Every party involved — especially our athletes — I don’t even know where to start thanking them for sticking by our sides,” Gustin said.

Gerson Flores Rojas can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @GersonFloresRo1.