Carrying on a Family Tradition – The Value of Volunteerism and Inclusion
Lance Matarazzo has been involved with Special Olympics Colorado for a good portion of his life; helping those in need is something that was embedded into his makeup at a young age thanks to his mom, Vicky Matarazzo. Vicky has been heavily involved with Special Olympics for 20 years and is the leader of the tennis program. Even with a rich history of volunteering for Special Olympics Colorado, Lance’s experience as a unified partner in recent years has been a pleasant surprise.
“One thing I didn’t expect was how connected you and your athlete become – the athletes are so engaged and you quickly develop a strong bond because they completely embrace the team aspect. They just go out, have fun and compete without a care in the world.”
Lance partnered up with Alex Nogueira at the 2014 Summer Classic where they competed in Unified Tennis. Having attended many of the same Special Olympics events, they had gotten to know each other for a few years but had not partnered together before competing in tennis at the Summer Classic. Despite not being partners for long, the chemistry between the two of them jumped off the court to everyone who saw them compete. “Alex is always smiling and we connected immediately over his contagiously positive attitude. I was amazed to see how easy it was to develop a relationship with him — it’s like playing tennis with one of my best friends,” says Lance.
“I have been playing tennis my whole life and I can honestly say he has more enthusiasm for the sport than anyone I’ve ever played with – and that’s saying something,” explains Lance.
Having been involved with Special Olympics and his family’s passion for Special Olympics, it comes as no surprise that Lance is looking to increase his involvement with SOCO. Lance would like to take the torch from his mother when the time is right, “I’m actually hoping to take over for my mom at some point. She loves doing it and she’s been doing it for a long time, but she can’t do it forever. I’d like to make sure (the tennis program) doesn’t take a step back.”
Upon hearing that Lance wants to take over for his mom when the time comes, Vicky says “I could not be more proud to know that Lance feels this strongly about Special Olympics and that he wants to continue doing what (our family) is so passionate about. I’m very blessed that all of my kids and many of my grandkids have taken an interest in being involved with Special Olympics. Anyone who thinks Special Olympics is just about the athletes, is missing the point – they don’t have a clue what it’s really about and the life-changing impact it has on everyone involved.”
Vicky volunteers a few hours, two or three days a week, in addition to traveling with her teams and serving on national committees. She’s been very instrumental in the growth of the sport and has hosted two national tennis tournaments in Colorado.
“Special Olympics has changed my whole outlook on life,” Vicky said. “When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer my family wanted me to take a step back from my involvement in Special Olympics even if I felt well enough, but Special Olympics is a major part of my life and there is nowhere else I would want to be and spend my time, regardless of my health. Some people would want to change their lives when being diagnosed with a major illness, but I just want to keep doing what I’m doing – Special Olympics is my second family.”
When asked if he would recommend the experience of being involved with Project UNIFY and participating as a Unified Partner, Lance’s normal enthusiasm jumped to another level.
“If you’re debating whether or not to do it, to me, there is no debate,” says the 34-year old from Lakewood. “It’s for a great cause and you’re not only helping out the athletes, but they help you so much more. You will develop a great friendship, and you have no idea how much it means to the athletes that you’re taking time out of your day to be with them. At the end of the day there is nothing more important than living your life, regardless of your circumstances — good or bad, and these athletes exemplify that with such a positive attitude. Being involved with Project Unify has truly been a therapy for me; it makes everything else fade away and gives me perspective on what really matters.”