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Special Olympians Putt Into Greenwich Man's Heart

Sept. 11th marked more than just a moment of remembrance for Greenwich's Dave LaRusso. As he looked out over his golfers at the Special Olympics State Tournament at Sleeping Giant Golf Course in Hamden, he watched as his 13th season as coach came to a close.

“I'll be doing this well into my 80s if I can. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon,” the 60-year-old LaRusso says of his years with Special Olympics. Outside his Greenwich sporting goods store, Rink and Racquet , a potential but late customer peers in the windows, 15 minutes after closing.

LaRusso started the Greenwich Special Olympics golf team on a request 13 years ago. That first season he had nine players. Now he draws 20 from around the region. The Greenwich team has open arms, and residency is not a requirement to play. The Wednesday practices though the summer season take place at Stanwich Club , a facility LaRusso praises for the quality of both its facilities and course as well as its generous spirit.

The athletes' skills impress LaRusso, but it is the subtle strength of heart and spirit that truly endears them to him. As he talks about various players over the years, delivering stories and anecdotes about their brilliance, he smiles and looks off into the distance. Somewhere beyond the shelves of pucks and hockey masks he's looking at some of his favorite memories.

Special Olympics wasn't a foreign concept to him when he was asked to start the team. His little sister, Lisa, has Down syndrome and has long been a competitor. LaRusso adores her, and in the tournaments, they are partners.

The program's success lies in the strength of the volunteers, according to LaRusso. Many do not have friends or family members with special needs. They volunteer simply because helping out feels good. That said, LaRusso says the Special Olympics is always looking for more volunteers. In many cases, knowledge or ability in a sport isn't necessary, just a willingness and ability to be positive and encouraging.

“It's an ongoing situation where people keep saying you are doing such a thing, and I laugh,” LaRusso says, as he recalls letters and kudos from the community for his involvement. “You can't possibly give more than you get out of being a volunteer. It's just fun.”

Visit the website to volunteer with the Connecticut Special Olympics.

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