Distinguished Dozen: For Special Olympics coordinator, ?it's not work'
The Daily Progress - 1/2/2018
Ninth in a 12-part series.
What started out as a family tradition has led Rose Ann Gamma to dedicate her time to helping special athletes discover their strengths and give them more opportunities.
Gamma grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and lived there until 2000, when she moved to Charlottesville to work at her brother and sister-in-law's business, the Classics Gymnastics Center in Albemarle County. From the time she was about 5 years old until she graduated high school, Gamma said she trained in gymnastics, as did her siblings.
In fact, Gamma said, her grandparents were among the founding members of the gymnastics center in her hometown.
"We were a gymnastics family, from little on up," she said.
After getting to know the Charlottesville area for a few months, Gamma said she wanted to get out into the community and do something. With an interest in Special Olympics in the back her mind, the organization ended up coming to her, she said.
When Area 3 Special Olympics Virginia (Charlottesville and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene and Louisa counties) contacted Classics Gymnastics in 2001 to start a program for their athletes, Gamma said it was like everything just fell together. She soon started volunteering as the gymnastics coach for Special Olympics and eventually began helping with other sports.
"At the time, Gene Arnold was our area coordinator, and if anybody knew Gene, he could get you to come and do anything that Gene wanted you to do," Gamma said, laughing. "When he found people he wanted to add to the program, he would say, 'Rose Ann, you're going to come out and work the basketball tournament this weekend, right?'"
"I got more and more involved as we went along."
In 2009, though, Arnold died suddenly and Special Olympics needed a new coordinator for Area 3. When she was nominated for the position, Gamma took up the helm with a straightforward attitude and superior organization skills, according to Sue and Lloyd Raupp, whose son, Chris, is a Special Olympics athlete.
"There was no hesitation and she just runs everything flawlessly," Lloyd Raupp said. "As much as she adores the athletes, she is a no-nonsense administrator and is focused on making sure everything runs the way it's supposed to run."
"She has dedicated her life to this," said Sue Raupp. "She has revamped and reorganized the programs. These people have become her family, and she means it with all her heart."
"She's a real gem," Lloyd Raupp added.
Chris Raupp is one of two tennis players who will be traveling to Seattle, Washington, next year to compete for Special Olympics at the national level, and Gamma will accompany him as a coach. Sue Raupp said the two like to tease each other about their football loyalties - Chris likes the Washington Redskins, while Gamma is a longtime Green Bay Packers fan.
Special Olympics Area 3 serves about 200 to 250 athletes, Gamma said, and offers 10 different sports, including volleyball, soccer, bowling, swimming and track. The regular program is for athletes 8 years old and up. The Young Athlete Program is for 2- to 7-year-olds to learn about different sports and practice body movement.
With regional, state and national tournaments at different times of the year, Gamma and her group of volunteers are constantly busy. But she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I don't do this all on my own," Gamma said. "I have volunteers that have fallen into place and everybody has stepped up. The volunteer group we have in this program is amazing. We've even got to the point where a few of the athletes have started to volunteer."
Both Daniel Leake, Shenandoah regional director for Special Olympics Virginia, and Rick Jeffrey, president of Special Olympics of Virginia, said Gamma puts a tremendous amount of effort into the program and dedicates a huge portion of her time to the athletes.
"I think she's well-respected by the coaches, athletes and parents," Leake said. "She'll joke with people, but is still professional with coaches and parents. She does an incredible job."
"She is a lovely, wonderful person," said Jeffrey. "There's a lot of work and effort that goes into this program, and we could not pay someone enough to do all that she does."
Gamma also helps to organize fundraising efforts for Special Olympics - most notably, the program's annual 10K race in September - and said the Charlottesville community is very giving.
Working full-time at Classics Gymnastics and dedicating most of her free time to Special Olympics, Gamma said it is worth every minute.
"It's just such a rewarding organization and group to work with," she said. "It's not work."