By Kami-Leigh Agard
As longtime, dedicated Rockaway Special Olympics (RSO) program director, Joe Featherston, stated, “There’s nobody like a mother” and this Saturday, May 13, a sea of runners and walkers will be pounding the boardwalk for the Rockaway Track Club’s “Rose Gurry Mother’s Day Half-Marathon and 5K/1-Mile Walk” to give Rockaway local, Rose Gurry, and nine other Rockaway Special Olympics’ mothers and volunteers their flowers—celebrating their passionate stewardship of Rockaway’s Special Olympics athletes. Plus, the proceeds from RTC’s Mother’s Day Walk/Run will go towards sponsoring a three-day weekend trip in June for 20 RSO athletes.
Besides Gurry, the other seasoned women being honored, some of whom have sadly passed on, include: Regina Clark, Mary Mullally, Consuelo Batres, Maura Brosnan, Kay Manning, Fran Romano, Virginia Rupp, Anne Reilly and Diane Erhard.
According to Featherston and Rockaway Track Club (RTC) director and coach, Jim McVeigh, all of the women being honored on Saturday are all well-deserving, seasoned caregivers of RSO athletes. For example, Featherston shared an anecdote about Saturday’s RTC Walk/Run’s 80-something-years young namesake, Rose Gurry.
“We started Rockaway Special Olympics program in 1996. I applied to Queens Special Olympics to start a training site. After going through the paperwork, I needed volunteers. Rose Gurry, who this Saturday’s RTC run/walk is named in honor of, was a member of Rockaway Gliders Track Club, and became our first Special Olympics volunteer. Since then, Rose had been a volunteer for over 22 years until this past October. Remarkably, every year, Rose would remember every one of our athletes’ and volunteers’ birthdays and send them a birthday card.
“On top of that, she was an avid runner, winning many medals over the years in her respective age group category. She’s an inspiration for all of us on how to stay young—physically, mentally, emotionally, and how to have an optimistic, happy, loving attitude towards life. Every one of our special athletes love seeing Rose Gurry. Mothers and volunteers working with special needs athletes are tied at the hip, inseparable and wonderful to each other. What a symbiotic relationship of love.”
Featherston then recollected a special memory about Gurry and another RTC Mother’s Day Walk/Run honoree, Diane Erhard.
“One of my favorite memories of our program is with Rose and Diane Erhard, who was another phenomenal special mother and avid RSO volunteer, who has since passed away. At our Fall indoor hockey games, Rose and Diane, both in their eighties, would be the goalies at opposite nets. These two ladies would both make kick saves with their feet. These are memories that I consider one of our all-time great moments at Rockaway Special Olympics,” he said.
McVeigh added, “Though Rose is no longer attending our Monday RSO evening sessions, she’s as vibrant as ever, spending time not just with her grandchildren, but also, great grandchildren. So, the inspiration for this year’s RTC Mother’s Day Run/Walk are women like Rose and the others, who all passionately invested their time and love into our RSO athletes.”
According to McVeigh, in the last six months, four of Saturday’s honorees have passed away, and additionally, five in the last few years. Most recently, was longtime volunteer, Regina Clark. “So, I felt dedicating this year’s RTC Mother’s Day Run/Walk to Rose and those RSO mothers and volunteers who have passed on, would be so special,” he said.
The proceeds from Rockaway Track Club Mother’s Day Half-Marathon Rose Gurry 5K/1-Mile Walk go towards sponsoring a three-day weekend trip for 20 RSO athletes to Windham Mountain Resort in the Catskills in upstate NY.
Featherston was a physical education teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School when a chance phone call forever pivoted the trajectory of his life. He shared, “I was in my assistant principal’s office when the Cross Island YMCA called looking for someone to train several of their Special Olympic athletes. I got the job, and now, here I am 30 years later, still coaching athletes with special needs.”
After his three-year stint at the Cross Island Y, Featherston founded Rockaway’s own NYS-chartered Special Olympics team. He secured a home base for the new team at St. Camillus gym, and recruited volunteer coaches from the Rockaway Gliders, a fitness club he had founded several years before. The St. Camillus gym was approved as an official RSO training site in 1996, where athletes and their family members have been attending the weekly Monday sessions ever since. Today, the group boasts upwards of 60 athletes on its roster, ranging in age from five to 60 and older.
The Special Olympics organization was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose eight famous siblings included a sister with special needs. Shriver saw firsthand how those with intellectual disabilities were routinely excluded from society and became committed to making the world a better place for them. When she became an accomplished athlete in college, she observed how sports can serve as a common ground to unite people from all walks of life and believed that those with disabilities can accomplish far more if they’re only given the opportunity.
The RSO meets at St. Camillus Monday evenings, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Athletes play a plethora of games, including floor hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, ping pong, and more. Besides playing sports, these athletes and their families create life-long friendships with other participants and their families, and volunteers. Also, the group participates in a number of community events, from the annual Graybeards Family Run, the Rockaway Little League Parade and The Little North Pole.
Registration for the RTC Mother’s Day Half-Marathon & Rose Gurry 5K/1-Mile Walk happening this Saturday, May 13, is still open online and also, on the day of the event. Schedule: 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.—in-person registration, bib tag and tee shirt pick up at St. Camillus Springman Hall (185 Beach 99th Street). Run/walk starting line is at Beach 94th Street/boardwalk. Post-race—celebrate with bagels, coffee and other breakfast treats at St. Camillus Springman Hall. For further information and to register, visit: www.rockawaytc.org
For more information about Rockaway Special Olympics, email: firstname.lastname@example.org