Ewing – Adam Korsak was signing autographs and handing out wedding receptions ahead of the opening ceremony for the 2022 Special Olympics Summer Games in New Jersey on Friday night when he saw a familiar face.
Earlier in the week, the Rutgers player spoke with his friend John Paolini – a special Olympian he met at the 2019 edition of the Summer Games – so he knew he would be there. But Korsak was unaware of John’s choice of shoes; When he looked down, Korsak saw that he was wearing a pair of sneakers he had gifted him during the 2019 games.
“He says they make him faster,” said Korsak, smiling like every participant he met all evening.
It was one of the many tender moments the Crimson Knights shared with the Olympians as they personally return to the SONJ Summer Games after the coronavirus pandemic has affected the past two years.
Nearly 30 Rutgers players attended Friday’s celebrations at the College of New Jersey. They spread out across campus to chat with Olympic athletes before the opening ceremony, take photos, and hand out weddings, wishing everyone good luck and sharing a collective understanding of the long journey they’ve taken to prepare for these moments.
It’s not easy,” said Rutgers quarterback Noah Federal. “They do it every day, they train like we do. Life is tough on everyone. It gives you a little juice, like ‘They can do it, anybody can do it.'”
The Federal family’s history of playing and coaching soccer is well documented, but they have a lot of experience using the game as a way to serve the community as well.
He grew up hearing stories from his father, Mike, about being a volunteer coach for the Special Olympics basketball team in Lincoln, Nebraska, and how it was one of his “favorite college memories” and how it affected his life. So when the opportunity to debut as a Scarlett rider came up, Federal didn’t hesitate.
Federal, a former track and field athlete, enjoyed asking the athletes where they come from and what events they take part in. And when an Olympian told him she ran the 400 metres, he praised her for being a “strong athlete” and told her “Don’t miss the 400!”
“It’s fun to share stories like this and see their faces light up,” Federal said. “…There is a lot of joy. It is the most wonderful part of sport, seeing people come together. Sport means a lot to a lot of people, it means a lot to me and my family, so it’s great to come out here and see it being shared.”
Case in point: When Mian Ahunato spoke in a defensive encounter to two reporters, he was interrupted by a Special Olympics player named Christian who wanted his signature.
Ahunato said, “Sure, can I have what you have?”
“Just cool,” Ahunato said. “It’s so amazing giving back to the community. It’s not about me, it’s not about any of our players here. This is their Super Bowl, so I try to bring energy and support them. That’s what this is all about. It’s all about the people, it’s all about Give back, because they come to our games and support Rutgers football. Give back as much as I can.”
This small interaction created a memory that will not soon be forgotten.
Ask Korsak, who knows firsthand what impact these small gestures can have. While doing his own interview with local reporters, another Olympian he met in 2019 came to him.
“long time no see!”
Korsak definitely built more bonds during Friday’s event. He’ll meet his new gaming friends at SHI Stadium and exchange messages with them just as he did with Paolini.
That would lead to moments like Friday, where Paolini brought his Rutgers hat to the event and got every Scarlett jockey there to sign for it, including “his friend Adam Korsak, the gambler.”
“A lot of these athletes are Rutgers fans, and they’re from New Jersey, so it’s huge that we’re trying to give back a little bit,” Korsak said. “We learn a lot from each other. Again, the relationships you form, there are people that I still talk to, so going back and getting to know them, it’s great. It’s a great experience that puts things into perspective.”
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Brian Fonseca can be reached at email@example.com.