BRATTLEBORO >> Next Saturday, locals are asked to walk one mile through town to raise awareness for Down Syndrome, an event that will also support the Windham County Special Olympics.
The eighth annual Buddy Walk in Brattleboro will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, with participants meeting on the Common to jet off for a brief one milk walk and then gather back at the Common for live music, food from Subway, games and raffle prizes valued at $230.
"I think there are several reasons to come out, show your support for individuals of all abilities to be included into the community and recognize them as valuable members of the community," said Jim Nicholson, coordinator of the Buddy Walk in Brattleboro. "That's kind of my mission for the Buddy Walk."
The Buddy Walk has grown from 17 walks around the country in 1995 to about 250 according to the National Down Syndrome Society's website. The event is also the top advocacy event for Down Syndrome in the United States, which supports the approximately 400,000 people with Down Syndrome who reside in the U.S.
Nicholson and his wife, Lisa, were inspired to bring the Buddy Walk to Brattleboro eight years ago after they participated in the Buddy Walk in Woodstock with their daughter, Kaylea, 17. For years this event has provided financial supported to the NDSS, and in 2015, nationwide events raised more than $14 million to benefit programs and services, as well as the national advocacy and public awareness initiatives of NDSS.
This year, Nicholson saw a great need for the Special Olympics of Windham County and decided that 7-percent of funds raised from the Buddy Walk will go to NDSS the remainder will go to Special Olympics programs in Windham County, which offers athletics such as alpine and cross-country skiing, aquatics and basketball.
"As part of Buddy Walk, we've taken the opportunity to help other organizations in the community that are promoting inclusion or working toward inclusion," said Nicholson.
Nicholson further mentioned the Winston Prouty Center, which has promoted a sense of inclusion in its classrooms, as well as the Inclusion Center, which says it all in its name. Nicholson said the walk has supported both of those organizations in the past.
One of the informal themes for the walk this year is how these programs like the Special Olympics benefit the entire community, Nicholson said.
"It is so wonderful because it's not just opportunities for people like Kaylea, but it's also what the coaches and spectators get out of the competition. It's an inspiring opportunity for everyone to watch them perform."
The Buddy Walk this year will also include a keynote speaker, Linda Walsh, who is Executive Director of AbilityPlus at Mount Snow, which hosts the Special Olympics Alpine program. AbilityPlus offers individual alpine skiing and snowboarding lessons for people age 5 and up with any type of disability physical, developmental, cognitive or emotional.
"It was wonderful," Nicholson said describing what it has been like to was his daughter participate in the Special Olympics. "It was great to just see her work toward a goal, to watch her persistence and dedication just like any other athlete and to see her compete was just awesome."
He adds that another piece of the competition that he loves is the community response, watching spectators support her.
Nicholson said up until a couple of years ago, the Windham County Special Olympics program was limited to a basketball program that, coached by Fred Breunig and Ron Autenrieth. There are now two basketbal teams, "The Windham Wizards Blue" and "Windham Wizards White." But Nicholson hopes the program will grow.
"If you make a contribution to the Brattleboro Buddy Walk, it supports expanded Special Olympics programs in Windham County,"said Andy Davis, the Windham County Special Olympics contact person.
Davis said some athletes or potential athletes have shown interest in other sports, like bowling. "If we had resources we would be much more likely to move in that direction."
Davis noted that since his daughter, Emma, became an athlete in the Special Olympics, he has noticed a boost in her self confidence and pride in her accomplishments and is already talking about her excitement about hitting the ski slopes this winter.
Emma's mother, Robin, noted that an important aspect of the Special Olympics is the commitment from the participants, who are required to complete about 10 weeks of training throughout the program.
Robin also mentioned that their family never had a competitive nature, but once they saw how the competition aspect of the Special Olympics helped Emma thrive, they grew to love it.
"Competition made her want to swim a little faster and she was holding back inch by inch down the ski hill. But when she got to the competition, she flew; the Special Olympics helped her progress really fast."
The money raised at the Brattleboro Buddy Walk for the Windham County Special Olympics will go toward items such as equipment, jerseys and associated costs with training, facility costs,travel and other needed expenses for program expansion.
"Come meet each other and celebrate one another," Nicholson said. He added that he is proud that the Buddy Walk is supporting an "authentic and athletic competition geared toward providing opportunity for achievement"
The event is from 10 a.m to 1p.m. on Oct. 1; people can register and/or make a donation at brattleborobuddywalk.org. People may also register the day of the event. Adults are $12, kids ages 12 and younger are $5 and infants are free.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275