UNM Football Players Spend Day With Special Olympians

Feb. 17, 2013

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It was a chance for Kasey Carrier to get reacquainted with his friend, Nicholas. It was a chance for Andrew Aho to do get involved with something that has impacted him personally. It was a chance for John Russo, Cameron Padilla and Kenya Donaldson to feel like rock stars.

Several members of the University of New Mexico football team spent their Sunday volunteering their time to help with the 2013 Special Olympics of New Mexico Mayor's Indoor Track Invitational at the Convention Center.

The fourth annual event, the only indoor track and field meet in the country for Special Olympians, attracted athletes from all over the state of New Mexico.

"Instant gratification," said Lobo linebacker Dallas Bollema, when asked why he wanted to help with the event. "Things like this are really important. It gives us a chance to impact others' lives, and it's a learning experience for us."

Bollema is one of a handful of Lobos who have participated in all four Mayor's Indoor Track Invitationals. They say part of the gratification comes when some of the competitors they met in years past remember them and are excited to see them again.

"There's one of the kids from Rio Rancho - his name is Nicholas - who just finds me and shadows me the whole day," said Carrier, UNM's record-breaking running back. "That means a lot. Doing things like this just reminds you how you can make a difference."

The Lobos also had a representative from Rio Rancho in attendance by the name of Nicholas - he's better known as Cole Gautsche, UNM's quarterback ("Nicholas" is his actual first name). Sunday's event was Gautsche's second - he ushered athletes to their respective events last year but was a timer during running events this year - and he's enjoyed every minute of it.

"Just having a lot of laughs and good memories with everyone here," Gautsche said. "Sports are a great way to get everyone active, and any way I can help, I want to do it."

Aho, a tight end who will be a senior next season, wanted to help as well, but his involvement is more personal.

"I have a cousin who has special needs, so I like the chance to work with the Special Olympics," he said. "And by coming out here, I hope it shows the community that we're not just here to play football. I hope it shows that we want to be part of the community, too."

And while most ardent Lobo fans will immediately recognize Carrier, Gautsche and Bollema, the Special Olympians were just as excited to see players such as Padilla, Donaldson, Russo, Damacio Lopez and Jacob Bronowski.

One family member of a Special Olympian wanted her son to take a picture with Russo and Ryan Santos. Russo and Santos suddenly found themselves posing for about a dozen pictures over the next 10 minutes.

And while the competitors were eager to talk to the Lobos, some of the Lobos came away impressed with the Special Olympians as well.

Ayanna Reed, a representative from Manzano, ran with the Special Olympics torch once around the track, the Lobo football players running alongside.

"She surprised me with how fast she was," safety Dante Caro said. "She was awesome. I have to admit, I got a little winded toward the end of the lap trying to keep up with her. It was just great to see so many of these kids having fun."

The Lobos who volunteered their time Sunday to help with the Special Olympics indoor track and field meet: Andrew Aho, Darian Allen, David Anaya, Andrew Aqua, Dallas Bollema, Trajuan Briggs, Jacob Bronowski, Kasey Carrier, Dante Caro, Kenya Donaldson, Cole Gautsche, Sam Gentry, David Georges, Damacio Lopez, Quinton McCown, Bryan Oldenkamp, Cameron Padilla, Josh Romero, John Russo, Ryan Santos, Alex St. Peter.