Special Olympics Missouri has a way of impacting the lives of those who are involved with the organization. Gary Brimer, a staff member who celebrated his 20th year on staff on Halloween, was impacted long before he became a staff member in 1994.
“I fell in love with Special Olympics in 1976. I was a coach, an area committee member, a board member, a volunteer area director, and a Unified Partner way before I became a paid staff member,” Brimer said.
Due to the love and support Brimer received from his teams, he was willing to take on a new venture that was presented to him during his coaching days. Special Olympics Missouri would be taking a floor hockey team to the 1989 International Winter Games to be held in Reno, Nev. Brimer had recent experience when it came to coaching athletes at an international level. In 1987, he had taken a softball team to the International Summer Games in South Bend, Ind., and finished in second place. However, the game of floor hockey was a new concept.
Brimer knew that he would need assistance and therefore asked the Special Olympics Missouri community for help.
“Sister Barb, a nun from St. Louis had been coaching floor hockey for some years. She had taken her mentally disabled teams to tournaments in Canada where the best floor hockey was played – as you can imagine. She offered to bring some of her athletes all the way to Boonville (a 2 hour drive) to show us how to play,” Brimer said.
Sister Barb and her athletes’ willingness to help was greatly appreciated by both Brimer and his athletes.
“She was very gracious. Even after we told her that we wanted to go to the International Games – which she was expecting to take her team to – she still gave us her used equipment to practice with. They ran us through drills and even scrimmaged with us for a while,” Brimer said.
Brimer and his athletes immediately took interest in the game of floor hockey. However, they only had six weeks to prepare while in the midst of completing basketball season. The chances of winning the upcoming state tournament weren’t great. The little amount of preparation time did not deter the team’s ambition, though.
“I knew I had to be optimistic with the team. I just told them that we were a good team and that good teams beat more experienced teams all the time. I also said that everyone there would have to play 110 percent better than they ever had before,” Brimer said.
Sure enough, Brimer’s optimistic viewpoint paid off.
“We won, but I’ll never know how. The boys stepped up like I asked them to and carried us to victory. I’ll never forget shaking Sister Barb’s hand. As she congratulated me, she told me that she would send us the St. Louis Blues jerseys that they had already received,” Brimer said.
While Sister Barb was previously helping Brimer and his athletes learn the game of floor hockey, she mentioned that every state with National Hockey Teams would receive jerseys for their athletes to wear during the International Winter Games.
Sister Barb’s act of kindness wasn’t the only one that Brimer and his athletes received. The Special Olympics Missouri community worked hard and was able to help raise funds for new floor hockey equipment, uniforms and trip expenses.
When it was time for the International Winter Games, the travel to the Games was just as new and exciting as the preparation aspect.
“Only a couple of the boys had flown before. We knew that we were in for a treat,” Brimer said.
As is expected with anyone’s first time flying, nerves were high. However, the athletes quickly became comfortable with the idea of flying and were ready to compete.
“The games began and we played well. We ended up in third place. By not beating Canada, we had to play for 3rd or 4th and we handedly beat a team from New York for the bronze in a score of 6 to 1,” Brimer said.
After all of the hard work that was done in preparation for the new venture of floor hockey, Brimer’s athletes were eager to celebrate. They celebrated in the hotel’s game room where they won lots of super-sized stuffed animals.
“My first thought was where will we pack these?” Brimer said.
Brimer opted to ship the prizes back home for his athletes.
Super-sized stuffed animals weren’t the only prizes that Brimer and his athletes were taking back home with them after competing. Instead, everyone who helped Special Olympics Missouri take a floor hockey team to the 1989 International Winter Games in Reno, Nev., were able to learn from the preparation and excitement that comes from an unknown venture.
“The best part of my 20 plus years is of course the athletes and how much I learn from them every day. The friendships that I have made by my involvement with Special Olympics Missouri will last forever,” Brimer said.
Even though ventures may seem intimidating at first glance, it’s evident that new ventures can be just as impactful. Volunteering for an organization that you’re passionate about will likely have the same effect on you; and perhaps that organization is Special Olympics Missouri.
If you would like more information regarding upcoming volunteer opportunities, please visit our website at www.somo.org/volunteer.