DETROIT — Sports are a driving force in peoples’ lives. Being an athlete isn’t just an activity, it’s a commitment. It’s a way of life.
Johan Franzen and his honorary guests know just how much of a commitment that is, as he hosts one Special Olympics athlete and a guest at each of the Red Wings home games during the 2014-15 season.
In its second season, Franzen’s Friends provides fellow athletes with an opportunity to attend a Wings game and enjoy the sport of hockey. Franzen said treating his guests to a night at the rink to watch the Wings play is a fun experience for everyone.
“I met a few kids before,” Franzen said. “They love sports just as much as anybody else but haven’t been as lucky so they need some help to play their sports. It takes a lot, I’ve tried it out a few times, played hockey and stuff like that. Those kids are awesome, it’s a cool thing to be a part of.”
One of his guests was 26-year-old Trevor Taylor.
Taylor has played hockey since he was five years old and has participated in the Special Olympics where he competed in both speed skating and bocce ball.
Being one of Franzen’s guests at Joe Louis Arena was a dream come true for Taylor. As an avid Wings fan, Taylor’s bedroom is decked out in red-and-white team memorabilia. Red Wings jerseys, pennants and pictures litter the walls and winged-wheel blankets and pillows cover the bed.
“It’s real easy for us,” Franzen said. “Donate two tickets and sign some autographs and say hi to some kids so it can really make their day, makes a huge difference for them and so easy for us to do.”
Taylor is the team captain of the Michigan FAR Flyers and has played in several state and Canadian hockey tournaments. He has also represented Michigan at the 2010 National Special Olympics in Lincoln, Neb., where he received a gold medal and a silver medal.
The Special Olympics Michigan provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Athletes develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy while participating in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship among their families, Special Olympics athletes and the community. The athletes achieve their dreams with the support of caring volunteers, coaches, family members and staff. Donations from Michigan citizens and businesses provide funding for the program.
More than 20,000 athletes participate in the Special Olympics Michigan with programs provided at no cost to athletes or their families. With 22 sports are offered including six state-level competitions, 4 district basketball tournaments and more than 400 competitions statewide, the Special Olympics runs with the help of volunteers.
It takes more than 20,000 volunteers and partners to keep the games functioning for the athletes. Additionally, with a small investment in sports equipment and volunteers' time, Special Olympics has the potential to become a vehicle for bringing people together and changing attitudes.
The 2015 Special Olympics Michigan State Winter Games begin in February and the program is always looking for volunteers and coaches. Visit somi.org for more information on how to be a part of the event.