Special Olympics athletes stay active and safe through bocce

Bocce proved to be an ideal sport during the pandemic

We're just a few weeks away from taking the plunge again for a good cause.

BLACKSBURG, Va. – In just a few weeks, athletes, volunteers and community members from all across Virginia will once again take the plunge to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Virginia.

The annual Polar Plunge will happen with a twist in 2021. Instead of hundreds of people in southwest Virginia gathering in one place to hop into the New River on a frigid, February day, plungers will get to “plunge it their way” and use creative, socially-distanced and safe ways to take the plunge in their own, unique way.

Special Olympics Virginia had to suspend in-person activities in March, but since then athletes, volunteers and staff have found one sport in particular that works well with COVID-19 restrictions.

Bocce proved to be an ideal sport for Special Olympics’ unified programming, which brings together athletes with and without disabilities. Bocce is played outdoors and can be done with a small number of socially-distanced and masked participants.

“It was a little challenging at first because of all of the rules that are in place right now but it’s gotten to be fun and no problems,” said Joey Wheeler, a Special Olympics athlete who recently moved to Blacksburg from northern Virginia.

Wheeler has participated in everything from skiing to floor hockey to basketball, but said bocce is his favorite.

Special Olympics Area 8 and Area 9, which cover the Roanoke Valley and New River Valley, picked bocce as their first sport to offer in-person since suspending activities in March. To participate, athletes and volunteers must sign a COVID-19 waiver, do temperature checks, wear masks and complete a COVID-19 screening.

“People are certainly willing to go through some extra cleaning procedures and protocols and getting their temperatures and those things if it means that they’re able to still come out and be active and participate,” said Clark Stridsberg, Intramural Sports Coordinator at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech Recreational Sports has continued to be a key partner with Special Olympics, hosting clinics, tournaments, practices and games on campus, including bocce this fall.

“It’s been so great to continue to work on that partnership even with all of these different restrictions from the pandemic,” Stridsberg said.

Wheeler said it has been great to be able to connect with other athletes through bocce.

“Special Olympics means to me being involved with other activities and just being out there having fun with friends, " Wheeler said.

For more information about Special Olympics Virginia and the 2021 Polar Plunge, click here.

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