Penn State

‘Like one big family.’ Special Olympics athletes reflect on 50 years of Summer Games

Members of the Centre County Special Olympics track team were triumphant Friday as they showed off medals in the shot put, relay and 400-meter walk.

“I’m the oldest ... I’ve been doing it for 48 years!” declared Jeff Kersavage, a veteran Special Olympics Pa. athlete.

Kersavage has seen Pennsylvania’s Special Olympics Summer Games go through many different iterations over its 50 years.

“It’s grown a lot. We have over 2,000 athletes, it’s grown every year ... I like seeing Summer Games,” he said.

For Claire Weaver, of State College, the Special Olympics have helped her meet new friends, like Kersavage, who is her “best friend.”

“I’ve been doing Special Olympics since I was in ninth grade,” she said. “I really enjoy it, it’s a good outreach thing, and I really like to ... meet new people and I’m a very social person.”

Weaver has been living on her own for almost four years, and she credits Special Olympics for helping her find the confidence and network of support.

Centre County Special Olympics Claire Weaver shows off the medals she won from track and field and softball at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania summer games on Friday, June 7, 2019. Abby Drey

“I consider Special Olympics like one big family, so we, like, all help each other,” she said. “... I really want to make Special Olympics a success, for more people to come and join Special Olympics because it’s awesome.”

Over at the Sarni tennis courts, Gareth Roof was waiting to play a singles match.

“What’s our motto?” Coach Cathy Prosek asked.

“Tennis!” Roof relied.

“’Hurry up and wait,’ “ Prosek said with a laugh.

A voice came over the loudspeaker: “Next up ... Joseph Kirby from Lebanon and Gareth Roof from Centre.”

The whole team cheered, and Roof grabbed his tennis racket and rushed over to the court to play.

Roof was confined to a wheelchair at one point, said Prosek, but doctors found a treatment and now he walks, wearing leg braces for support.

Centre County Special Olympics athlete Sarah Koston plays tennis at the Special Olympics Pennsylvania summer games on Friday, June 7, 2019. Abby Drey

Prosek also has a personal connection to the tennis team — her son Matthew is a 29-year veteran of the Special Olympics PA Summer Games.

The Proseks moved to State College from Northern Virginia when Matthew was 14, and Cathy Prosek said that’s when her son started at the Summer Games, going on to win a gold medal at nationals 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“He’s learned a lot of self confidence through Special Olympics,” she said. “He’s living on his own with some staff support, he works part time, walks to work, and a lot of people ... give him a lot of support.”

That afternoon, Matthew Prosek had just come off a winning match.

“I’ve won a lot,” he said. “Based if they put me in a higher bracket, I don’t win as much.”

He said he enjoys tennis because he likes the individual challenge and doesn’t care for team sports.

“Sometimes you just don’t know what’s coming to ya,” he said. “And it’s just best to sit back and play it out and let it happen. And when the winning does happen, it’s just fun to see.”

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