Folsom HIlls Special Olympics
Jun 29, 2012 07:52AM ● Published by Style
Photos by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
For Paul Matlack, founder of Team Folsom Hills Special Olympics, there are few things in life as joyful and rewarding as watching the athletes in the program grow and succeed – both on the playing field and in the often challenging real world.
The organization that Matlack co-founded eight years ago with his wife, Heidi, started with only three members and has evolved to include more than 120 athletes – spanning from ages 8-64 with a range of intellectual and physical disabilities.
An affiliate of the larger Special Olympics Northern California, Team Folsom Hills promotes itself as a year-round sports training and competition program that praises the efforts of each and every athlete who participates. Matlack and his dedicated group of nearly 80 volunteers strive to create a fair competition by offering multiple levels in each sport and presenting every participant with a ribbon, not just those placing in a medal category. “The program is really about inclusion,” Matlack says. “We try to find a place for every person [to fit in], even though it’s not always easy. For many athletes, this is the first time they’ve ever played a sport or the first time their family has been able to cheer them on.”
Team Folsom Hills Special Olympics is personal for the Matlack family as both of their daughters were determined to have an intellectual disability. Three decades ago doctors didn’t have a proper diagnosis, yet they did advise the Matlacks to engage in physical activity with their children to promote mental development. Having grown up playing sports, Matlack knew first-hand the benefits of being an athlete, and therefore spent hours playing sports with his girls. Even on rainy evenings, there they would be, bouncing a basketball around the garage.
Once the family settled in El Dorado Hills, they sought out a Special Olympics program but came up short with the closest chapter being in Sacramento. Seeing that a local chapter would not only benefit their own children but a multitude of others, Team Folsom Hills Special Olympics was born. “We believe the Special Olympic athlete is a segment of society that is severely under served, and this is a program that changes people’s lives for the better,” Matlack shares. “Recreational sports give them the same confidence we all got growing up, and when one of our athletes shouts: ‘I’m a swimmer now!’ it really touches your heart.”
The organization offers a variety of sports, each lasting eight weeks and culminating in an Olympic competition. Having just completed their Summer Olympic Games in swimming, bocce ball and track and field, the program will transition to softball and golf this month.
Although the nonprofit has had to discontinue a few of their sports due to lack of funds, one of their greatest challenges is finding practice facilities in our busy and active community. Team Folsom Hills Special Olympics welcomes those who would like to donate their time or space and are always accepting applications for new athletes and volunteers.
Visit teamfolsomhills.com for more information.