Elizabeth Kaufman has been involved with the Special Olympics since she was a child. When the city of Auburn needed a coordinator for the local effort, she knew she would be a great fit.

Kaufman coordinates Special Olympics athletes in Lee, Macon, Russell and Tallapoosa counties — over 300 athletes in all, just part of the 5 million worldwide.

“I love helping them grow, helping them learn new skills, and I think in return they teach us stuff,” she said. “They teach us to live life in the moment and whether you win or lose, it’s about how much fun you have.”

The youngest local athletes are 8, and the oldest are in their late 50s. They compete in tennis, track and field, swimming, golf, flag football, volleyball, powerlifting and more at various facilities around the city of Auburn.

Kaufman is one of two basketball coaches for local Special Olympics athletes. Assistant coach Zac Crutchfield got involved in the organization two years ago after working at a summer camp for people with special needs. The most enriching part of his experience, he said, is the relationships he builds with the athletes and the fun they have together.

According to Kaufman, many volunteers love interacting with the athletes because they get to see them working at something they’re gifted at, and it helps promote inclusion.

“I think it gives them an opportunity to see people of all ability levels have a place and have a purpose in the world,” she said. “And they do. They have a place, a purpose, a reason for being here, and I think helping someone get involved with Special Olympics helps them to see that.”

National Special Olympic games and the qualifier events for them are every four years, but there are state-level games every year. There are also local scrimmages held monthly that athletes can attend.

The annual Polar Plunge fundraiser for Special Olympics is set for Feb. 1 at the Samford Pool.

Participants register on the city’s website and seek as many donations as they can to meet their goals. Donations also will be accepted during the event.

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