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To Play Your Heart Out


A Peoples employee talks about her experience with the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania.

  • Olympian Lydia Wert, Beaver County
  • Olympian Alex Nickle, Westmoreland County
  • Olympian Matt Prosek, Centre County
  • Olympian Jonathan Tyler, Allegheny County
  • Our employees in Atloona came out to cheer on the Special Olympics Torch Run as they made their way to State College!
  • Our North Shore employees gathered to cheer on runners in the Special Olympics Torch Run, which kicked off at PNC Park.

Have you ever seen the movie Miracle? It chronicles the story of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey team and their historic upset of the Soviet Union during the 1980 Winter Olympics. There’s a softer scene tucked away towards the end of the movie, when U.S. Coach Herb Brooks sits with his wife in the Olympic Village, watching their kids skate on an ice rink, snowflakes floating through the glow of the lights. It’s the night before the team faces the almighty Soviets, and as they sit there, Herb’s wife tells him that there’s no disgrace in losing to the Soviets—that his team got this far, and that was the important thing. Herb steels himself and responds, “The important thing? The important thing is that those twenty boys know in twenty years, they didn’t leave anything on the table. They played their hearts out. That’s the important thing.”

When I stepped out of my car and crunched down into a foot of snow at Seven Springs this past winter for the Special Olympics Winter Games, I was reminded of that quiet scene from Miracle. There was a palpable vibe in the air—a bubbling excitement in the conversation through the halls, the deliberate way that athletes suited up in their gear, the looks of raw focus, relief, and happiness as they crossed the finish lines. When I saw those faces and sensed that community, it finally set in: I was surrounded by Olympians. The room around me was brimming with people who have accomplished astounding things—skiing down the side of a mountain, whipping around a rink, running through frigid air with snowshoes strapped to their feet. And after watching them and listening to them, I knew…they weren’t just there to “get this far.” They were there to give everything they have and to leave nothing on the table.

I was in awe of them.

I had trekked out to the Laurel Highlands for the Winter Games, not really knowing what to expect. Peoples had recently partnered with the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, and I’d been invited there to get a feel for the event, the atmosphere. But it was the people—the Olympians—that I will remember more than anything.

In the course of one day, I saw every emotion you could imagine—determination, perseverance, heartbreak, pride, love, spirit. I spoke with parents whose sons and daughters have been competing in the Special Olympics for decades because “they just love to do it.” I met Lydia, an extremely talented young skier.  She told me about the events she competed in, but then quickly diverged to tell me about Muddy Rose Pottery, a place where she and her mother volunteer. Muddy Rose is committed to helping individuals with different intellectual and developmental ability levels to discover their creative side through pottery. I told Lydia that it sounded wonderful. She tucked her hair behind her ears, nodded, and smiled one of the most radiant smiles I have ever seen. “There are people who need help more than I do,” she said simply. 

Some might question why companies get behind certain causes, why they get involved. I could never put it better than Lydia did: Because there are people who need help more than I do. And it is our job to support them in any way we can.

Recently two athletes, Terri and Jonathan, visited one of our offices to meet our employees and encourage them to join the first leg of the Torch Run—a 3-day, 150 mile run from Pittsburgh to State College, to kick of the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania’s Summer Games. One athlete, Terri, actually carried the torch during the past Winter Games, skiing one-handed down the slopes. The other athlete, Jonathan, wowed our employees with videos of his NBA-caliber dunks.

I asked Terri and Jonathan if they participated in the Torch Run before. “I have,” Jonathan said quietly, and Jessica, one of our partners from the Special Olympics, grinned at him. “He was only supposed to run the first three mile leg,” she told me, “but what did you do, Jonathan?”

He smiled sheepishly. “I kept running.”

“I was supposed to meet him at the end of the first leg,” Jessica explained, “but he just kept going right past me. And what did you tell me afterwards, Jonathan, when I met you at the end of the second leg? Why did you keep going?”

“Because I wasn’t tired,” he said simply. What a powerful lesson packed into those four words. What more could each of us achieve if we didn’t stop just because the task was done, or just because the race was over? What if we kept going, kept pushing, until we couldn’t go any further? That’s what I learned from my time with these athletes. We should always work our hardest to surprise ourselves.

The world remembers Olympians. Years and years after their triumphant feats, we remember their faces, their tears, the medals draped over their heads, their arms raised. We remember their stories. And I know that, years from now, I will remember these Olympians.

Because they came to play their hearts out. 

Article written by Jamie N., a Peoples employee.