When it came time for members of the Rutgers football team to sign up as volunteers for Friday's annual New Jersey Special Olympics event in Trenton, their head coach had one simple, yet heartfelt message for them.
"What I tried to express to the team when I told them about this, if you've never done it, I want you to do it one time," Kyle Flood said. "Because I believe if you do it one time, I really believe it'll change your life. It'll change your perspective and it'll inspire you."
Flood knows whereof he speaks. He and his family have seen firsthand the effect the Special Olympics can have on the athletes and those who volunteer. That's because Flood's younger sister, Kimberly, has been a participant in various Special Olympics events from an early age.
"She's been involved her whole life," Flood said. "By virtue of that, myself and my family have been to a lot of these events over the years. I think when you go there and you see these athletes compete, it changes your life."
Kimberly Flood suffered from a seizure disorder as an infant, and during one such episode, her fever spiked, which doctors believe led to her becoming mentally handicapped.
"Unfortunately, the doctors never really could tell you exactly what happened," Flood said.
Now 37, Kimberly has no physical disabilities, but is classified as mentally retarded with autistic tendencies, functioning on a two to five-year old level, depending on the task. She lives in a house in Green Point on Long Island, under 24-hour supervision with three other adults.
Each weekend, Flood's father picks his sister up and drives her home to spend time with family. She was at High Point Solutions Stadium for the first time ever in April, watching her brother in his first Scarlet-White game as head coach.
For the past decade, Rutgers football players have strode side-by-side with the athletes into Lions' Stadium on the campus of The College of New Jersey for the opening ceremonies. In the latest of a series of firsts as head coach, Flood will take over for his predecessor Greg Schiano as the honorary coach, addressing the crowd of over 6,000 athletes, volunteers and family members to officially christen the games.
"I'm honored now to have the role that I have in it," he said. "It's much more than just showing up and waving and saying hello. I'm really looking forward to being out there with the athletes.
"I'm sure I will make some type of speech at the beginning to welcome everybody and then hopefully I'll be able to get involved."
Also getting involved will be a record-number of Rutgers players. It seems the message they got from their leader hit home.
"I know we have more players signed up for the trip than we ever have, so I know the team is excited about it," Flood said.
The opening ceremonies for the 2012 New Jersey Special Olympics Summer Games begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lions Stadium on the campus of the The College of New Jersey. There is no admission fee to any of the events at the Summer Games and the public is encouraged to come out and view the events.
Special Olympics New Jersey provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.