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Providing a Gateway to Empowerment
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Providing a Gateway to Empowerment

Student Athletes Reach Out to the Community

By Skip Snow

On a November Saturday last fall, freshman swimmer Chelsea Law torpedoed through the water with powerful strokes en route to finishing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle, a full nine seconds ahead of her nearest competitor. For Law and the rest of the Notre Dame squad, competing in a home meet against West Virginia Wesleyan, the will and determination to compete at such a high level came a bit easier than it had before … perhaps because they had witnessed a higher level of competition seven days prior.

Accomplishing great things: Members of the Falcon Swimming & Diving team volunteered at a Special Olympics event in Wooster, Ohio.
Accomplishing great things: Members of the Falcon Swimming & Diving team volunteered at a Special Olympics event in Wooster, Ohio.

On the previous Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Wooster Area YMCA, members of the NDC Swimming & Diving team volunteered in a Special Olympics swim meet. For a second straight year, NDC Swimming & Diving was a part of the proceedings, as the Falcons volunteered their services as timers, athlete escorts, announcers and award presenters. Junior swimmer Jackie Walsh organized the service experience for the team.

“Volunteering at the Special Olympics was a great experience for our team,” Walsh said. “We were able to see those less fortunate than ourselves accomplish great things, greater things, in fact, than we could achieve.”

The spirit and commitment offered up by the Falcons was noted by the event’s co-director, Ron Leonard. “I haven’t been involved in coordinating a Special Olympics event that ran any smoother,” he said. “This is due, to a very large extent, to the volunteerism of the Notre Dame College swim team.”

That spirit of volunteerism has become prevalent among NDC’s 23 varsity athletic teams, with student-athletes participating in numerous activities, fundraisers and service projects.

The activities come in many shapes and sizes – from donating time and manpower to the Cleveland Food Bank to shoveling the driveways of elderly South Euclid residents. Often the most impactful services provided are simple acts of kindness.

“One activity I participated in that was particularly gratifying,” said Law, “was delivering painted flower pots to people in a nursing home. I realized how seldom some of the residents were visited. They were all very grateful, and it made me want to stay longer and just sit and talk with them.”

Service to youth: Members of the Falcon Soccer team hosted a soccer clinic at "The Fest" in Willoughby Hills, Ohio.
Service to youth: Members of the Falcon Soccer team hosted a soccer clinic at "The Fest" in Willoughby Hills, Ohio.

Community gardens, playground construction, blood drives, food and clothing collections, and clinics for at-risk youth – these are the types of service activities that have become the norm in the life of Falcon student-athletes. It’s part of the campus culture and the experience of participating in college athletics when young men and women come to Notre Dame to continue their athletic careers.

“Being a student-athlete at Notre Dame is a multi-faceted experience,” said Coach Mark Ridley, who has been at the helm of the Notre Dame volleyball squad since 2003. “What goes on in the classroom and on the court or field is complemented by what our athletes do in the community. And that could mean raising funds for an international agency trying to eradicate cancer or a service project in the neighborhood surrounding our campus. We want to be good citizens in our neighborhood, in our city, in Northeast Ohio and beyond.”

Freshman Barbara Meluch is a member of Ridley’s Falcon volleyball team and has participated in numerous outreach projects in her first year on College Road.

“Sometimes college is so much about yourself,” Meluch said. “It’s about your grades, your degree and your choices. The service aspect at NDC allows the student to do something for someone else. It gives students the opportunity to see that there is more to life than yourself.”

That realization comes across the board for Falcon student-athletes, whether they’re participating in the College’s many FalconCorps activities or raising funds by lifting weights in a “lift-a-thon” as the football team did this past April.

Reaching the next generation: The Falcon Track & Field team regularly visits local schools to talk to young kids about making right decisions.
Reaching the next generation: The Falcon Track & Field team regularly visits local schools to talk to young kids about making right decisions.

“I think that it is important for everyone to be involved in community service projects,” Law said. “I think the service aspect of my experience here does enhance what I take away from Notre Dame because it causes me to consider all the reasons I am here and the true motivation of my life. I want to help people with whatever I am doing, directly or indirectly.”

The Special Olympics describe their sports as providing “a gateway to empowerment, competence, acceptance and joy.” Like Chelsea Law executing the many flip-turns in her 500-yard race, that gateway offers passage both ways – both to the recipient and the giver.

Skip Snow is the director of sports information at Notre Dame College.