They came through the tunnel onto the Colts practice field. Some ran, some walked, some were pushed in wheelchairs – but all were met with cheers, claps, and high fives.
“One of the most humbling things was watching them come through the tunnel and just seeing how special it was to them,” said Craig Hanusin with the Knights of Columbus. “They touch your heart on every level.”
“There are athletes here today who have some pretty good abilities. There are some athletes from Special Olympics that have some really limited abilities,” said Michael Furnish, President and CEO of Special Olympics Indiana. “I’m not sure as I watched them running through the tunnel that any of them didn’t think they were starting in today’s NFL game.”
Employees of Finish Line, members of the Knights of Columbus, and the Marian University football team joined Colts alumni players to help run the stations and coach the athletes through the drills.
Former offensive lineman Ryan Diem was in attendance last year. This year, he brought the whole family.
“It’s just such an awesome opportunity to help out with Special Olympics and anything we can do to expose our kids early to different people that have different challenges, I think, is going to serve them well in life. We brought out Ashlyn, Luke, and Zach tonight just to learn and to hang out and be a good friend.”
And they had a great time doing it.
Former long snapper Justin Snow found himself on the receiving end of the snaps, as he set up and threw passes to the athletes.
“I’m not used to that, right?” he said. “I’ve had a few that I’ve had to kind of fumble around with, but the linemen did a good job of keeping the pressure off of me and I made a good pass. I think right now, my passing percentage is through the roof.”
For Snow, it was about much more than just trying his hand at quarterback.
“I had a brother who had cerebral palsy. This is something that’s near and dear to my heart,” he said. “He passed away, February 22nd will be 18 years ago. This is just something where I can get a little piece of him back. This is a treat to me.”
Former defensive lineman Chukie Nwokorie also came out last year and was so inspired by what he saw – he decided to jump in a lake (in March) to raise money for the Special Olympics.
A first time participant in last year’s Polar Plunge, Nwokorie plans to plunge again on March 4th. And this time, he’s bringing some of his former teammates along with him.
“The water feels warm because the adrenaline is pumping,” he said. “It’s the air that’s cold.”
But the cause is what warms his heart.
“To see these kids, through no fault of their own, going and doing these drills – it’s inspiring to watch,” he said. “The drills, not everyone is athletic enough to handle them, but to watch them do the best that they can – it’s fun.”
And it’s tough to tell who enjoyed it more – the athletes or those who were there to support them.
“I think most anybody who’s here would testify that it’s really cool for our athletes – but I’m not sure that the Colts and the Knights don’t carry as much away from tonight’s experience as our athletes do,” said Furnish. “There’s a level of humanity that’s exchanged here that more and more every day, it’s what’s needed in the world.”
It takes many things to be an athlete – but most of all, it takes heart. And there was plenty of it on Thursday night.
To participate in the 2017 Polar Plunge or support the participants, visit: http://soindiana.org/polar-plunge/.