MANHATTAN, KS. (KSNT)- Unified Sports is finally back for Special Olympians and K-State students in Manhattan.
The Coronavirus pandemic shut down sports everywhere, but most leagues were able to return after just a few months. For Special Olympics ‘Unified Sports’ program, the wait was much longer than that.
“It was really hard to watch other people do other sports,” Special Olympian Natasha Baker said. “It was like ‘When are we going to be able to do something? We need to do something.”
Unified is an intramural program that combines K-State students and Special Olympics athletes. Tuesday was a special day for everyone involved as they returned to play for the first time in almost 18 months.
“Our population is especially high risk for COVID because most of them have some underlying health issues, so we’ve taken the pandemic more seriously than maybe anybody,” Special Olympics Manhattan sports and program director Krystin Guggisberg said.
The long wait was not easy.
“It was really hard,” Guggisberg said. “We did some virtual stuff online. We’ve been on Zoom through the entire pandemic, but it’s just not the same.”
“Oh it felt like forever in a day,” Baker said. “It’s like ‘Let’s go! Please, let’s go!'”
Needless to say, they’re excited to be back.
“I feel so excited,” Baker said. “It’s like words can’t describe how I feel. I just feel so… ecstatic.”
Life wasn’t the same for Special Olympians or K-State students without this weekly activity.
“They’re just all so sweet,” K-State senior Maddie Soehner said. “They’re just the greatest friends to have. They make you feel so welcomed and just part of the Special Olympics family.”
Natasha Baker says despite their differences, everyone feels as one when they gather for Unified Sports.
“It feels like you don’t even have a disability when you’re hanging out with them,” Baker said. “It feels like we’re all equal, we’re all one.”
Special Olympics does Unified on KU and Washburn’s campuses as well, plus many others across the country. The first week of volleyball games was on Tuesday and Unified will play basketball, flag football and soccer after that.