Meet Mary Murphy, your local CVS pharmacist. During the week Mary works full-time while also caring for her family which consists of her husband Timothy, and her two little girls, Claire age 8 and Casey age 3. Aside from managing her job and her young family, Mary also cares for her nine horses that compete in a multitude of events from horse shows to rodeos. Not only does Mary look after her family, her pharmacy, and her small herd of horses, she also spends a lot of her time managing a Special Olympics Equestrian team.
Mary first got involved in Special Olympics when she was a teenager. After her mother passed away her 4-H leader recommended volunteering at the A-STRIDE (Adapted Specialized Training & Recreation Involving Disabled Equestrians) program in her home town of Cazenovia. The A-STRIDE program offered mentally and physically handicapped adults and children the opportunity to learn how to ride horses. After Mary graduated college she moved to Ballston Spa with her husband and started a family. During this time Mary volunteeredat Equability in Middle Grove, which was a farm that taught both general horseback riding lessons and therapeutic horseback riding lessons for the physically and mentally handicapped.
Six years ago, Mary made an executive decision to move the Special Olympics to her farm on Hop City Road to better the education of the riders. Since then she has taken on many more riders and volunteers and now has nearly doubled the number of those participating in the program.
At Special Olympics Mary does a variety of things. Not only does she care for her horses by feeding them and cleaning the barn, but she also brings in the horses used for Special Olympics, then prepares them for the lessons that they will be used in. This involves deciding which type of tack to use, deciding what each rider will be working on, and which horse to put them on based on their level of experience. Mary also has to plan what activities each rider will do in each specific lesson. After this Mary teaches the lessons, sidewalks, and sets up obstacles to help sharpen the skills of each rider. Aside from all this, Mary also finds time to train new volunteers to participate in Special Olympics as coaches.
When we asked Mary why she devoted so much of her life to the Special Olympics Riding Program she stated: “To see Adam really smile and become animated, to hear Joey giggle (just not too hard), to hear Bruce speak at all! It makes my heart happy. For all of us volunteers, it is a fun couple hours every week, but many of these guys center their week around riding. Many of our riders are physically unable to participate in many sports, and very few are emotionally able to participate in a team sport for whatever reason. Riding gives them the opportunity to develop teamwork with the horse at whatever level they are riding at! The horses all know that our riders are “special” and for the most part are very much more patient and forgiving than they are with an able bodied rider. The first time I visited one of our riders at home, I was extremely humbled and touched that his entire bedroom revolved around a horse theme, and he and his mother had blown up photographs of his favorite Special Olympic horses, and he had posters of horses that looked like the ones used in the program. He took great pleasure in telling me the names of all the horses in the pictures and telling me all sorts of little things I had mentioned in passing at one time or another about our horses.”
We are very honored to have met and volunteered with Mary. Our six years of volunteering has taught us how much Special Olympics impacts the riders’ lives. Without Mary’s hard work and dedication, Special Olympics wouldn’t be where it is today, and our riders wouldn’t have felt a greater sense of accomplishment when they compete. Mary Murphy is truly a hero as she strives to make Special Olympics both fun and a learning experience for all who participate.