Construction has already begun on the Golisano Training Center at Nazareth College, which will host regional Special Olympics events and be used to help athletes.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Special Olympics, and Rochester’s own history with the event goes back almost as long.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium at SUNY Brockport is quiet in the summer. The hum of a generator powering a giant sprinkler can be heard as a few people run on the track.
As Chief Communications Officer Dave Mihalyov says, the summer of 1979 was a different story.
"The stadium was built so we could host the 1979 international Special Olympics," he tells me.
We are standing near the spot he says he was on that day in August: "I came for the opening ceremony and I was standing by the fence and I got to slap Mohammad Ali's hand. It was pretty cool."
The stadium is named for Eunice Kennedy Shriver, President John F. Kennedy's sister, who in 1962 founded Camp Shriver, which evolved into the Special Olympics.
In the last 50 years, the Rochester area has hosted many other Special Olympics events -- dozens of state summer games and regional games. It’s also home to some Special Olympics champions, like Amanda Vito. She lives in Penfield, and she plays basketball, soccer, golf, bocce, and other sports.
"Track is my favorite though," she says.
Vito has been competing in the Special Olympics for 14 years. She’s been to nationals twice, and in 2006 she broke the national record for the 100-meter dash.
“The best part I like is running," she says. "And feeling the wind in my face."
Right now, Vito says she practices on pavement, running in the street. But that could change, with the addition of a new $23 million sports facility at Nazareth College.
The Golisano Training Center is already under construction, and will provide an indoor track, field, courts and training facilities.
Julie Long, chief public relations officer at Nazareth, says the facility won't just be serving their students on campus, "but also let our health students work with Special Olympian athletes as well as letting them use the center for their events."
Vito says she’s excited about the potential to compete and train in the center, and she’s also going to be attending a ceremonial groundbreaking for the facility.
"I’ve never gotten to do something like that," she says. "This is a big opportunity for me."
Also in attendance at the ceremony will be the center’s namesake, Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex and a major donor to the project. Timothy Shriver, Eunice’s son and chairman of the Special Olympics, also will be there.
But the Golisano Training Center isn’t just about competition and games. Nazareth is also partnering with Special Olympics of New York to connect health and human services students with Special Olympic athletes to provide health care. People with disabilities are less likely to be able to access health care and are more likely to suffer from health conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure.