Student recognized for Special Olympics service

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Aidan Gaertner ’20 (pictured, on right) and his family were honored with the “2017 Outstanding Family Award” at the Special Olympics of Minnesota’s annual Distinguished Service Awards ceremony on September 8.

Gaertner got involved with the Special Olympics when his aunt, the head coach of the Roseville Flames Special Olympics team in Minnesota, asked him to help coach a new flag football team. Flag football is a “unified” sport, which is an inclusive program that unites Special Olympics athletes and individuals without intellectual disabilities on the same team.

“I had such a great time with the flag football team that I invited several of my friends to join in to help,” Gaertner said. “The emotion the athletes show when they complete a pass in football or connect the bat to the ball in softball is unmistakable joy.”

Gaertner competed in high school sports and is now a football player at Colgate. He organized a Special Olympics basketball tournament at St. Thomas Academy High School that has since become an annual Special Olympics Day at the school.

“I now realize how fortunate I am to have always had a team as part of my life,” he said. “Many of the Special Olympics athletes did not have these opportunities in their youth or in high school. They have shared in my high school sports experience, and I am honored to know that many now follow Colgate football.”

The Gaertner family was selected from nearly 8,000 families within Special Olympics Minnesota to be recognized for their work with the organization. Aidan has been participating as a unified partner — both playing and coaching — in track and field, golf, flag football, and basketball for the past seven years.

“Our team consists of approximately 100 athletes, and they all love Aidan,” said Patsy Eull, Head of Delegation of the Flames Special Olympics Team. “He has been a strong role model for our athletes, and as a result, has enabled athletes to gain self-confidence and build a strong self-image.”