The snazziest Unified team at Showplace Lanes Sunday most definitely was the team of Kaitlyn Flynn and Lauren Erdelt. The two were decked out in feathered tiaras while they bowled.
“I’ve wanted to bowl with Lauren for years,” Kaitlyn said. “I love the tiaras!”
Lauren, who is known for her tiaras—she has 27!—has been in Special Olympics for 19 years. She participates in athletics (track and field), bocce, basketball and bowling.
It’s obvious that Lauren and Kaitlyn have a lot of fun together. “Kaitlyn is like a younger sister,” Lauren said.
Kaitlyn, who is pursuing a graduate degree in counseling, has been around Special Olympics much of her life because her sister has been an athlete for years. She started as a volunteer at age 11—after begging for years to be allowed to help.
“I took a few years off in college from volunteering, but now that I am in graduate school, I’m back. Volunteering for me is an escape from the world. The athletes are in a good mood, they’re uplifting and positive. Being with them puts everything in perspective,” Kaitlyn said.
Unified teams run in Kaitlyn’s family: her grandpa has been bowling with her sister for years.
“As a Unified Partner,” Kaitlyn said, “we’re building a bond with the athletes. I’ve developed a spirit of compassion. You start to recognize their strengths and you realize that everyone has their own strengths. You have a greater appreciation for what they can do and what you can do.”
Kaitlyn said that being a Unified Partner is something that just about anyone could benefit from. “Special Olympics has been one of the most formative experiences in my life,” she said. “I wouldn’t have the compassion for everyone that I feel without Special Olympics.”
Lauren said that she and Kaitlyn will continue their Unified Bowling team next season. And Kaitlyn said she can’t see a time where she wouldn’t be around Special Olympics.
“Special Olympics will always be a part of my life,” she said.