LAWRENCE: Special Olympics focus of luncheon

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Special Olympics Games USA will draw about 100,000 people to the central Jersey region in June and inject around $110 million into the economy during the week of the games, according to the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce.
Robert D. Prunetti, chamber president and CEO, said Wednesday that his organization did an impact study with the help of the Special Olympics that came up with that dollar figure.
"Not only are these games important to all the athletes, all the families . . . but important to our economy as well and important to you businesses as well," he said during a chamber luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The Special Olympics go from June 14 to 21, with games in 16 sports. Some 3,500 athletes, their coaches, families and more than 10,000 volunteers are expected. The bulk of the competition will take place in Mercer County, at schools like Rider and Princeton universities.
"It’s really going to be an unbelievable week," said TJ Nelligan, chairman and CEO of the games, at the luncheon.
Earlier in his remarks, Mr. Nelligan credited the part the business community played.
"But it was the corporations, it was the people in this room and beyond, that helped us to raise almost $20 million, which is unbelievable," he said.
The opening ceremony takes place June 15 at the Prudential Center in Newark.
During the week of the games, there are special events planned for the athletes, such as boat rides around Manhattan and a trip to see the Trenton Thunder, the minor league baseball team.
"So we put together what I think is a remarkable week for the athletes," said Mr. Nelligan, whose son is a Special Olympics athlete. "It’s going to showcase the state that we all love and grew up in in a better light than we normally get shown on television around this country."
State Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney shared with the audience what it was like learning, at 33, that his daughter — born premature at only two pounds — had Down syndrome.
"So for two days, I couldn’t talk. I was so traumatized. I wanted to talk, but I couldn’t talk," said Mr. Sweeney, a burly former ironworker who later got emotional.
The experience, he said, served as a wake-call for him to grow up. His daughter, Lauren, now 21, has an iPhone, an iPad and a boyfriend Mr. Sweeney joked he is trying to get rid of.
"Kids with disabilities are no different than any other child," he said. "They love, they want, they care."