When children are asked what they want to “be” when they grow up, their answers are usually predictable: ballerina, firefighter, astronaut. Competing in the Special Olympics is usually not among their goals. But nearly 7,500 athletes have realized that by competing at the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, they, too, are changing the world.
One of them is Molly Hincka, 20, a long distance runner from Brighton, Mich. Hincka took home a bronze medal in both the 4 x 400 relay and the 5000 meter run, as well as a silver medal and a personal best time in the 3000 meter run. Yet she never expected to be a contender at the World Games.
“I never thought of it or planned on it,” Hincka said. “It just sort of happened.”
Hincka became involved in Special Olympics at eight years old when her parents took her to a track practice. Since then, she has tried basketball, gymnastics, softball and showshoeing in addition to running. She’s even started to learn golf.
“Basically, I will try, play or watch any sport — I love sports!” Hincka said.
Now, however, her commitment to track takes up most of her time. To keep up her fitness, Hincka works out every day, running anywhere from two to six miles along with sprinting, lifting weights and boxing.
“My coach PJ helps me,” Hincka said, “and my brother Danny and sister Charlotte always work out with me.”
That core of support has been crucial for Hincka to succeed, and one member of her hard-working family has finally been recognized. As a long-time sponsor of Special Olympics, Proctor & Gamble ran an advertising campaign titled “Thank You, Mom,” which this yearfeatured Hincka and her mother, Kerry, in a nationally televised commercial that helped raise over $220,000.
“Every parent wishes the best for their child,” Kerry Hincka said. “Our family is thrilled for Molly that she has accomplished so much personally, but we are more thrilled that this whole situation has raised awareness for this worthy and fun cause, and that a fabulous corporation like P and G has really put their heart into backing Special Olympics.”
In addition to acting as a spokesperson for Proctor & Gamble, Hincka is a member of the Global Messenger program, which trains Special Olympic athletes in public speaking and then sends them out as ambassadors to events and school functions. Through this project, Hincka says she has encouraged others to become involved in Special Olympics.
One such volunteer opportunity for college students is SO College, a network that combines Special Olympics clubs and chapters of Best Buddies — a nonprofit that pairs those who suffer from intellectual and developmental disabilities with average students—as well as other service organizations, to facilitate an environment of respect for the disabled.
“[At Special Olympics], you will find not only opportunities to participate and compete, but you will find support networks that are beyond passionate — they’re ferocious,” Kerry Hincka said. “We don’t know anyone who has volunteered for Special Olympics and not felt like they had gotten out more than they put in.”
For all of those involved in Special Olympics, there is one message, summed up by Hincka’s father, Gerald.
“Press on. Do your best. When they knock you down, get up, and fight through it,” Gerald Hincka wrote on the Special Olympics Michigan website. “That’s Molly. That’s Special Olympics.”