Fox Chase Cancer Center Employee's Team Wins the Gold in 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games
PHILADELPHIA (August 7, 2001) - With an exciting 4-0 triumph over Cypress, the American floor hockey team achieved their ultimate goal. They earned the gold medal at the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska. Fox Chase employee Robert Heiland of the Fox Chase section in Northeast Philadelphia was among the team's gold medallists.
An overflowing crowd of spectators filled the enormous FedEx jumbo-jet hangar at Anchorage's international airport. Normally, it houses Boeing 747s. For the World Games, dozens of volunteers had transformed it into Alaska's largest floor hockey arena.
"At the final moments of the game, everyone was holding their breath," said Betty Heiland, Robert's mother. "I held my pocketbook so tight, I had marks on my hands! We were just speechless. It was so exciting to see the game."
The crowd went wild as the Americans scored the winning goal. Heiland jumped up and he and his 17 teammates all hugged each other.
"Winning felt great!," he said. "It makes it even more special to win with my friends."
Heiland and his teammates, who range in age from 18 to 38, have been playing floor hockey together for the last eight years. The team won the gold medal in Special Olympics' Pennsylvania State Winter Games last year, which qualified them to receive consideration for the World Winter Games in March. They were selected in a random drawing from four gold medal finalist teams.
The team practiced two nights every week for two and a half hours at a local high school. Their sport, floor hockey, is an adaptation of ice hockey without the skates, winged poles and hard pucks. Athletes wear tennis shoes and use sticks to push a rubber-coated felt doughnut around the rink. They move the puck by inserting the sticks through the ring.
"The people involved in Special Olympics are so dedicated, it makes participation so enjoyable," said Mrs. Heiland. "The coaches work endless hours with the athletes."
Heiland has been involved in Special Olympics for 16 years. He has also competed in swimming, horseback riding and bowling. He has earned gold medals in all of these events over the years at the Pennsylvania State Games.
"We first learned about Special Olympics through Robert's school. His teachers thought it would be very good therapy for his mild cerebral palsy," explained Mrs. Heiland. "His dad and I have encouraged Robby to participate in every sport he likes. Our son's participation has made us so proud of him and it has made him proud of himself."
Heiland and his teammates spent 15 days in Alaska for the World Winter Games. They played nine games and competed against teams from Austria, Sweden and Gibraltar among others.
"The people in Alaska were wonderful to the athletes," said Mrs. Heiland. "The community went out of their way 100 percent to welcome and support them."
"One night during our stay, the team, dressed in uniform, and all the families went out to dinner together. The whole restaurant cheered for them as we walked in," recalled Mrs. Heiland.
The 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games was the largest international sporting event in Alaskan history. The event included 2,750 athletes from 80 countries, including a total delegation of 498 for Team U.S.A., who competed in seven official winter sports. More than 5,000 volunteers organized and helped with the event, which drew an estimated 7,000 family members, dignitaries and VIPs from around the world.
"It was interesting to meet athletes from other countries," said Heiland. "That's one of the fun things about being a part of Special Olympics."
Other highlights included the opening ceremonies, which featured special guests Arnold Schwartzenegger and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Schriver, as well as a performance by The Pointer Sisters.
When Heiland returned home with his gold medal, he received a champion's welcome. Red, white and blue streamers and balloons decorated the front lawn of the Heiland household. Neighbors were eager to congratulate Heiland and hear all about his Special Olympics experience. The neighbors include Fox Chase co-workers Nancy McNamara of institutional advancement, Linda Morris of the film library, phlebotomist Lorraine Acevedo and Jean Iannarelli of NCCN.
"To see Robby do this, it was just heartwarming," said Mrs. Heiland. Every athlete there felt good about themselves, like they accomplished something. It was an experience we'll never forget."
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Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).
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