Diane Vaiskunas, Coach V. as she is called by students and teachers alike, has been a fixture at Madonna School for 34 years. Since first working with Madonna students as a YMCA swimming instructor, her energy and devotion have never slowed down. Coach V. now directs all Special Olympics activities at Madonna.
To Coach V., Special Olympics means more than just physical exercise. She describes practice and games as social events that build team spirit and offer learning experiences that are useful well beyond the court. Special Olympics, coach says, gives students “something to be proud of no matter the level of skill.” Participants get a ribbon whether or not they finish first and, most importantly, they have a lot of fun competing.
One of Coach V.’s favorite experiences with the Madonna students was the 2011 National Basketball Special Olympics. She and a group of volunteers spent a week with Madonna’s girl basketball team in Lincoln, NE. Coach V called it a “once in a lifetime experience.” In this environment, the students were given the opportunity to live and play in a community of more than a thousand athletes.
Not only did these athletes learn how to compete, they had the experience of living independently from their families for a week. Coach V. sees all Olympics not only as a chance to bet one’s self athletically, but learning how to “take the good with the bad.” Just as in everyday life, it is important to learn that we cannot always come in first place.
It is not a surprise that Coach V.’s favorite sport is swimming. Again, her reasoning goes beyond the initial physical benefits. She says it is a “beautiful sport” because the individual is in charge of learning the concentration and focus necessary to excel. Even more, swimming is the only sport where athletes must overcome a type of fear. Coach V. loves to help Madonna students overcome these fears and build confidence in themselves.
After 34 years, Coach V.'s commitment to Special Olympics and Madonna is unflinching. She encourages every student and parent to be a part of the Olympics. Many opportunities are available for volunteers.
Coach V. encourages those that are interested in getting involved to contact the state office of the Special Olympics at (402) 331-5545.
All of us should be a part of the magic that Coach V. has spread throughout the Madonna community.
Guest Post Darian Stout (c)