| By Erin O'Connor |
AGAWAM Susan Perguidi, a resident of the city, was in for a treat when she was inducted into the Special Olympics Massachusetts Association (SOMA) Hall of Fame on Oct. 25 at Gillette Stadium.
"Once you volunteer you get hooked," Perguidi said. "These kids have so much to offer and it is so good for them because it builds up their strength. That [award] was wonderful."
SOMA is a non-profit organization that provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Perguidi has been volunteering and coaching for the organization for seven years. The Hall of Fame began in 1992 and currently contains 120 members.
Perguidi, who recently underwent shoulder surgery refused to have the surgery done until after soccer season was over. She participates in a coaching schedule that goes all year round.
In December she coaches ice skating, figure skating and speed skating. She trains athletes in bowling in January. In April she is involved in track and field. Then in June she starts unified sports where the athletes participate in bocce. The day after Labor Day starts soccer season.
"This year we may do indoor Special Olympics that are year round," Perguidi said.
Her team numbers over 175 athletes in Greater Springfield. It is one of the biggest teams in Massachusetts.
"We have seven soccer teams alone," she said.
At the end of every season there are tournaments that take place around western Massachusetts region. Ice skating competition is in Worcester and track finals are at Boston University.
"In regular sports [athletes] do not get as much reinforcements as in the Special Olympics," Perguidi said. "It builds up their confidence and I think they are not afraid to try harder."
The award winning coach who had no prior experience explains how she began this part of her life:
"I was watching the Special Olympics in 1995 at the Connecticut World Games on TV. It was something that I always wanted to do and with an empty nest now why am I going to sit here and watch TV when I can be helping people?"
Perguidi then took action by calling the United Way and was put in contact with now best friend, Mary Beth O'Neil, head coach for the Springfield Team.
"She calls me her right hand man," Perguidi said warmly.
Perguidi went through brief training and found herself in a place that would soon earn her award and recognition.
"Whatever I give these athletes I feel like I get back 200-fold," she said.
Perguidi offered that the organization is always looking for more volunteers and interested parties can contact Jonathan Muskrat at the West Springfield location on 425 Union Street. The number is 747-8946.
"We are looking for volunteers for the Jolly Jaunt, the biggest fundraiser," Perguidi said.
"You know you touched the athletes and you are making them feel good but you don't know how you affected the families. You make friends and the parents make friends with other parents," Perguidi said. "There is an awful lot of challenge with having a child with disabilities. It [the team] is actually an extended family even though our numbers are high."