By Joshua B. Milien and Antonia Brogna
A young woman sat at a picnic table, holding her brown bangs away from her face, giving a platinum blonde makeup artist room to work. The makeup artist, a volunteer from the New York Institute of Beauty, dipped a makeup sponge into a bowl of fake blood and began dabbing it on the brunette’s face. Before long, the brunette had a bloody gash across her cheek and soon became a gruesome, undead zombie, ready to run for a cause.
The Long Island rUNDEAD 5K Zombie Run was held by Special Olympics New York on Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Massapequa PAL Field. Some of the event’s 118 registrants were signed up to just run the race, but others wanted to turn into zombies and act as obstacles for the runners. Zombies could steal flags, known as “lifelines,” off of the racers. Only racers who managed to keep all three of their lifelines by the end of the race were eligible for awards, but all participants could finish the race.
The rUNDEAD 5K Zombie Run started five years ago and set up a platform where people learn about Special Olympics and its athletes. It also raises money for the Long Island athletes that participate in the organization’s competitions.
“Athletes and their families are never charged to participate in Special Olympics,” Jennifer Cantone, Director of Development for Special Olympics New York, said. “With over 68,000 athletes in the state of New York and over 7,100 athletes here on Long Island, there’s a lot of money that needs to be raised.”
It costs $400 to supply each athlete with trainers, coaches and equipment needed to participate in the organization’s events for one season, according to their website.
“All of our athletes have intellectual disabilities,” Cantone said. “We are a sports and training organization so the money that is raised through events like these goes to supporting them in their training and competition.”
Volunteers for the run participate by registering on the Special Olympics website. They can register as an individual or team, then they set a fundraising goal and ask people to donate. The next step is showing up and registering as a runner or zombie for the 5k run.
“I think it’s fabulous, because I think it alerts people to the cause in general and helping people succeed when they wouldn’t if they didn’t have support,” Joann Walsh, an active volunteer and donor from East Islip, said.
Special Olympics offers athletes like Matthew Schuster, a 35-year-old Special Olympics athlete with Down syndrome, the opportunity to develop and realize their physical potential through 35 individual and team Olympic-style sports.
“[Special Olympics] makes me feel proud and happy and [full of] excitement,” Schuster said.
Special Olympics allows all athletes with intellectual disabilities to feel welcomed and accepted. It also helps them develop a sense of hard work and perseverance.
“There is no such thing as not trying in Special Olympics,” 30-year volunteer and coach Terry Uellendahl said.“Everybody gives it 100% all the time, that’s just the way it’s built into them, so if you learned the competitiveness, no matter how good you are, how poorly you perform, you try your best and you do your best at all times.”
The rUNDEAD 5K run is just one of the three charitable events Special Olympics New York holds in the Long Island region. Two other annual events include the Gold Coast Tour for Champions Golf Outing in Old Westbury, which took place in July and raised $200,000, and the Polar Plunge in Mount Sinai, which is taking place Nov. 18. Last year’s Polar Plunge raised $140,000 for Long Island athletes.
Special Olympics host regional, national and world competitions every two to four years. The next national games will take place next July in Seattle, Washington and the world games in March 2019 in Abu Dhabi.