Special Olympics Alaska earlier this month hosted a ground breaking ceremony for a 20,000 square foot expansion for their Sports, Health and Wellness Center where Governor Sean Parnell also signed House Bill 88 into law.
This expansion will more more than triple the size of Special Olympics Alaska’s current facilities. Of course, there will be a lot more workout space for athletes, but the organization’s President and CEO Jim Balamaci says it will be much more than strictly a training facility.
“We’re finding out that once we get, we’ve got people on the playing field now, we can provide more support in the health and nutrition, which will just make our guys even better off the playing field when they’re in their work and in their community,” Balamaci said.
The new facility will give the athletes a chance to train more than once a week. It will help expand the school programs, and give the organization a chance to offer courses on nutrition and basic health and wellness that could also be offered to the athlete’s family and others.
State Senator Lesil McGuire took part in the groundbreaking. She first got involved in Special Olympics Alaska after her brother suffered a traumatic brain injury during a head-on collision on the Seward Highway in the 1990s.
She says the ground breaking ceremony was an emotional moment for her.
“That training center is going to bring so much joy to so many people’s live, and to their families’ lives,” McGuire said. “And that was another thing to see was the joy on the siblings’ faces and, who often are born without challenges, and so for them to go to the training center along-side their brother or sister, and for the parents that are there, it’s just wonderful.”
Governor Parnell signed House Bill 88 into law during the gathering. The legislation eliminates the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from state statutes, replacing the references with “persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Jim Balamaci says many people and groups, including Special Olympics Alaska, have been fighting the use of those terms for many years, and says this is a very significant step.
“The slang word that came out of it was so hurtful for so many people for so many years, and there have been people who have been dedicating their lives for the last 30-40 years to have that word changed, and we were just, and Special Olympics, too, and we were just so honored to have that bill signed on our…not on our grounds…but it really was symbolic for people with disabilities in our state,” Balamaci said.
Balamaci is anticipating the building to be complete sometime in February.
Special Olympics Alaska serves over 2,000 athletes and involves over 1,000 volunteers annually.