Uniting students and athletes for the Special Olympics

An AU alum recruits students to film documentaries with local high school athletes with disabilities.

Uniting students and athletes for the Special Olympics

Sabrina Naimark was driving back home from work in Panama in 2008 when she turned on the radio and heard an announcement calling for volunteers at the Panama Special Olympics. Three days later, she sat on the sidelines watching the athletes compete and fell in love with the experience.

Naimark, who is now working on the Social Impact Summit team for the Special Olympics, decided at that moment that she found her life’s calling.

“Just being able to be there and seeing the kids and athletes all the time, I loved it,” Naimark said.

Naimark, who graduated from AU with a major in film and media arts in 2014, is directing a series of mini-documentaries from the beginning of March until May that will involve AU students and athletes with disabilities from local high schools. Each student will be paired with an athlete with a disability and will create a short profile documentary that Naimark will collect for her series.

Naimark said she hopes the videos will portray the positive impact of relationships between students and athletes, not only helping people with disabilities but also raising awareness about these athletes.

The documentary series is planned to be presented during the annual Special Olympics GenUin Social Impact Summit in Los Angeles. The summit will be a five day event from July 23 to 27, during which participants will present their ideas to receive funding.

“It’s not about us helping people with disabilities or them needing help,” Naimark said. “It’s about including people with disabilities in every event.”

Wanting to create documentaries was Naimark’s unwavering goal from the moment she attended college. She entered AU in 2010 and immediately enrolled in the University’s film and media arts program, where she began applying her skills to help raise awareness for non-profit organizations. From August of last year, she started working in D.C. for the local Special Olympics branch in preparation for the 2015 GenUin summit.

"It’s not about us helping people with disabilities or them needing help,” Naimark said. “It’s about including people with disabilities in every event.”

Naimark said one of her fondest memories from working in the Special Olympics involved one of the girls on the basketball team she was coaching. The girl, named Gisella, did not want to be there and would always complain about having stomachaches to avoid taking part in practice. Naimark had enough after several sessions and pushed her to participate. Naimark remembers Gisella resenting her for it, but after several sessions, the athlete would eventually come in and hug her coach everyday before practice.

During one particular game, Naimark remembered Gisella having a new enthusiasm to play. She said that other coaches told her to not put the girl in because she would cause the team to lose the game. Naimark promptly told them that she didn’t care.

When the girl got on to the court, Naimark saw her make her very first shot and score. The stadium erupted in cheers, and Naimark said she will never forget that very moment.

“It was the most amazing feeling ever,” Naimark said. “I could have died after that day, and I would have died happy.”

Naimark said that she wants to share her experiences with the students at AU and said she hopes her project will be the opportunity.

“The only thing people with disabilities need is opportunity and hope,” Naimark said. “And I hope my video will give them that hope.”


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