We caught up with Matt Otwell who has been a significant volunteer with Special Olympics Maryland for a number of years at a variety of different events.
Matt was kind enough to answer a few questions for us on his volunteer experience.
When did you first start getting involved with Special Olympics Maryland?
My first year with Special Olympics was 1999, which was 16 years ago.
What were your first roles? What are your current roles?
My first role was helping with anything and everything with alpine skiing. This included carrying poles, setting gates, organizing athletes during training runs, or simply unloading the truck with ski gear. Over the years as I became more experienced SOMD Staff asked if I could become more engaged with the alpine competition. This was exciting for me because it meant not only learning about alpine racing, but an opportunity to truly learn about the athletes and their competitive nature. Over time I started setting races courses, organizing the training sessions, organizing the competition, to overseeing all aspects of the alpine venue serving as the Director of the alpine venue. These current responsibilities include all of the classroom training & materials, the preseason/pre-games webinars and materials, keeping track of alpine equipment inventory, preparing the schedule for alpine on snow training sessions, preparing the alpine competition schedule including divisioning, organizing the alpine staging area, working with Whitetail Staff on race course locations, working with SOMD Staff for Games Management and other volunteers, and communicating those schedules and any addition information to the alpine team over a 3 month span when we begin planning for Winter Games.
About 12 years ago George Hergenhahn asked if I would be interested in helping with Summer Games. George’s responsibility at the time was organizing Food Services. So I jumped in filling water jugs, carrying ice, and delivering lunches. Little did I realize is that my involvement in Summer Games would grow as it did with Winter Games. After a few years I began to organize the setup of the water stations, lunch distribution, and determine how many lunches would be required for athletes, coaches, volunteers, and families. Currently I serve as the Food Services Director which includes coordinating, along with SOMD Staff, the meals during Summer Games for volunteers that are part of the Games Management Team. I also coordinate meal distribution and water station locations with Towson, attending all meetings, preparing any/all materials for Food Services on webinars, and communicating all of that information to the GMT Volunteers.
Why did you want to get involved?
I’ve always been interested in Special Olympics. When I was young I remember asking my mom to sponsor an athlete. I still have the ribbon and letter from 1985! I recall as a child seeing how individuals with intellectual disabilities were treated differently, and never understood why. So when I was afforded the opportunity to participate in an event that showcased how those individuals are not so different, I jumped right on it. How I got involved was very simple; someone I was training with one day simply asked me if I could ski and I replied “Yes”. Next he asked “Have you ever wanted to help with Special Olympics” and my reply was “Yes”. Next thing I know I was on a ski slope carrying poles and here I am 16 years later.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with Special Olympics Maryland and why?
It is difficult to pinpoint one single item that is most rewarding, overall it is the experience and sense of fulfillment that I am able to be a part of something much larger than myself.
What is it important for you to volunteer?
I believe every person naturally wants to help others, the difficult part is making the time. Knowing that so many athletes have an opportunity to experience so much in life is my biggest motivational factor. Next it is for the energy that I feel when I’m around so many others who have given their time to dedicate to such a cause.
You have had family members involved over the years. Explain who those were and there many roles.
Just about everyone member of my family has helped somewhere along the line helping with everything from setting poles, to fixing flags, to carrying ice. If I can I’d like to thank my wife Jackie who has helped at almost every event along with me, but mostly for all of her wonderful support as I give my time to Special Olympics. I would not be the person I am today without her!
Everyone has one or two Special Olympics Moments or stories that personify their experience or impact them positively. Would you share one of those with us?
There are so many memories that come to mind, but there are a couple that stand out. First was when an athlete attended the World Winter Games a few years ago. His name was Josh from Carroll County. Josh put his heart and soul into training for the World Games, and in the end he won a Gold Medal. This to me was a testament to everyone’s hard work and dedication to give Josh that opportunity to not only attend a World Games, but be as successful as he was.
Second is the memory of all of the special people that I get to work with at every event. I take a minute to look around and soak up the amazement that I am surrounded by so many great volunteers who are giving up their free time to be there.
The last is a little more personal. A few years ago while I was out Christmas shopping with my Mom we ran into an athlete that recognized me. That athlete was Chris Asher from AA County. We had a great conversation and I met his mom as well. Whenever I saw Chris after that, he always asked me how my mom was doing. Most recently at Winter Games when Chris asked, I informed him that my mom had recently passed away. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. His reaction was so heartfelt and supportive that I could hardly keep my emotions in check. This was a single reminder of why I was there, and how truly special all of the athletes are.
Many thanks to Matt for his time volunteering with Special Olympics and willingness to share his thoughts.