The first weekend in March, Heather Boger will help decorate some 1,000 Special Olympics participants with ribbons and medals. But ask her who’s really getting the reward, and her answer may surprise.
“The athletes do more for me than I do for them,” laughs the 31-year-old, who’s gained real perspective on persistence and strength during her 17 years with the nonprofit. “Most people want to come in first, but Special Olympics athletes don’t care what place they get—their goal is to finish. They get so emotional, and it’s a humbling experience,” she says, remembering an older cousin with special needs who talked proudly of his swimming medals and another competitor who cried for joy as Heather hung a last-place ribbon round her neck and hugged her.
Heather’s held plenty of volunteer positions—from athlete buddy to area director to games coordinator—and now gives her time when she’s not working as a post-doctoral fellow at MUSC. In addition to organizing local events, she aids Special Olympics S.C. in pulling off its annual Midwinter Games, especially the torch run through Charleston. This behind-the-scenes whirlwind arranges law enforcement, obtains permits, recruits torch runners, places volunteers, lines the course, and handles publicity and registration—everything to “make sure the event is at its best for the athletes.” But when the flame is carried into The Citadel campus and the opening ceremony begins, “the world just stops,” she says. “I see the excitement on their faces, and all the other stuff I worry over melts away.” It is in these quiet moments that Heather truly gets the gold.