After weeks of gray, soggy days, the sun shone brightly at Costa d’Este Wednesday evening as guests gathered poolside for a Nantucket-style clambake to raise awareness and donations for Special Olympics Florida. In addition to delicious seafood, the event also included a trunk show of jewelry by Idalia Baudo.
“Tonight is supposed to be a cozy party to thank our sponsors and supporters,” said Irina Fernandez, research and development consultant for Special Olympics of Indian River County. “All the movers, shakers and doers are here tonight.”
In addition to a need to increase funding so that additional athletes can participate, Fernandez hoped that the exposure would also encourage additional volunteers to get involved – working on the management team, as sports coaches and at the various sporting competitions.
There is a wide variety of sporting events open to the athletes, including basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, golf, soccer, stand-up paddle-boarding, swimming and surfing.
The highlight of the evening was a talk by 40-year-old Trisha (Trish) Torre, an athlete who Fernandez said exemplifies the spirit and vision of Special Olympics.
Torre was born three months prematurely, leading to partial brain damage and an intellectual disability, which in no way has held her spirit down. She said Special Olympics changed her life by instilling confidence, teaching her social and life-management skills, and providing her with numerous opportunities.
“The first sports I did were basketball and ice skating. My main focus was basketball, because I am a diehard KU (University of Kansas) fan. Watching them play I thought, maybe I can be good like them,” said Torre.
“At first I did not know what to think, but then I made new friends who treated me with respect, kindness and compassion. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized for the first time that I did not have to try and act differently, and I could finally be myself and fit in. It’s about inspiring individuals to help make their dreams a reality.”
Torre said her dreams came true when she was hired to work at Miracle Mile Publix, helped build her own home with Habitat for Humanity, and began winning ribbons and awards at state competitions.
“Winning is awesome, but even if I don’t win a medal I go home with the same pride and think, maybe next year I can accomplish this.”
Noting that there are roughly 2,000 special needs individuals in the county, all of whom are able to participate for free, Fernandez shared her desire to host a black-tie fundraising gala in February.
“We have 309 athletes in Indian River County, but we can double that number by raising more funds to pay for the cost,” said Fernandez. “We’re helping the most vulnerable population of this county, people who can’t help themselves, by providing an outlet to be accepted and fulfilled in the community. We are fulfilling the dream Eunice Kennedy had in 1968 by founding the Special Olympics organization and we are following her legacy.”