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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest unified student-athlete pair highlighted in Special Olympics Utah commercial

Sep 27, 2021 12:06PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High unified student-athletes JR Rugg and Abigail Slama-Catron, along with Dick’s Sporting Goods employee, Andrew Paul, were in a commercial about comfortable walking and running shoes for Special Olympics’ Walk for Inclusion. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Hillcrest High junior JR Rugg recently walked into Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Midvale and was looking at a pair of shoes before a salesclerk asked if he could help him, and found a pair of comfortable walking shoes in his size.

This had happened before. And it happened again and again and again. 

It was part of a commercial shoot which he and his unified soccer teammate, Abigail Slama-Catron, were part of to promote Special Olympics Utah’s inaugural Walk for Inclusion, held Aug. 12.

“It was a lot of fun; my favorite part was laughing at the jokes Abigail made as we walked into the store,” he said about the video shoot, adding much of their conversation between takes trended toward video games he plays in his spare time. “It was my first time shooting a commercial and I loved it. I think it turned out good.”

The two were selected to participate in the video shoot as they represent their school in the newly formed Special Olympics Youth Activation Committee, a group of eight to 12 high school pairs from across the state who are dedicated to seeing inclusion and unified sports in schools.

In fact, when the pair walked the two-mile perimeter around Liberty Park for the Walk for Inclusion, they earmarked funds they raised for the committee’s work.

“The main purpose of it is really a fundraising platform for our local programs,” said Special Olympics-Utah Special Events Manager Haley Nall, who said the goal was to raise $20,000 between the walk and a silent auction.

About 100 walkers laced up their shoes and participated after Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall cut an official ribbon. In addition, other participants walked in their communities and cities across the state, Nall said.

“We offered to them to walk virtually, in their neighborhoods or if coaches or areas want to do their own local walk, they could and still fundraise and be a part of this bigger event; it makes it more accessible for more people,” she said. 

About 15 teams and 60 individuals signed up earlier in the week before the event, with about a dozen community partners and sponsors who participated from raising donations to volunteering along the route. Some had outreach tables at the race site.

The walk was more than a fundraiser. 

“The Walk for Inclusion was more on with our mission,” Nall said. “We wanted to make it more intentional and on purpose with that.”

It also included a community component of engagement and celebration with a birthday cake celebrating Special Olympics-Utah’s 50th birthday.

Other 50th birthday Special Olympic events are planned such as a black-and-white bocce ball tournament Sept. 18; an Oct. championship week for Special Olympics awareness; and a Nov. 12 polar plunge and law enforcement torch run in Summit County.

The event Rugg is looking forward to is the unified soccer championship tournament Oct. 8-9 at Rio Tinto Field, which also will offer youth and high school unified athletes several activities, drills, and even an obstacle course. 

It was this past spring when Rugg and Slama-Catron met on Hillcrest’s unified soccer team which played in the May 1 all-day regional tournament. 

“I loved it, it’s probably my most favorite thing,” Rugg said about playing unified soccer and meeting his teammate. “The best part is getting to know new people, talking to them and helping them throughout the season. Abigail is a great teammate, and she was there for me when I had a pain in my side. She made sure I was alright and gave me a high-five. It’s a great way to make friends.”

The Unified Sports program matches high school students with student-athletes who may have autism, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, or other difficulties including ADHD and ADD, which Rugg said he has, to play together on the field, or on the basketball court, or to race around the track.

“The whole idea of unified sports is that it’s for everyone and to help everyone learn and have fun; we cheer on our teammates and our opponents,” Slama-Catron said. “Inclusion should be a part of all schools, each and every day, not just in a competition.”

As part of the campaign to kick off the next 50 years, there was an opportunity for people to sign up to be amongst Special Olympics Utah’s next 50 volunteers to their next 50 unified athletes.

The Walk for Inclusion commercial was filmed by two volunteer videographers, Afflerbach, in her first time volunteering, and Jake Eveler, who has helped with filming for Special Olympics the past six months. The video also starred Dick’s employees Andrew Paul and Dan Doell and was available on Special Olympics’ YouTube channel, Instagram and website as well as other outlets. Nall also plans to use it for the Special Olympics’ Healthy Athletes’ Fit Feet program.

Nall said that Dick’s, which is a year-round partner of Special Olympics-Utah, was a natural fit for the commercial.

“Customers specifically at that store in Fort Union, are into walking and running and hiking, so Dick’s was really interested in the Walk for Inclusion,” she said. “We wanted to film something showing our athletes and what a running shoe looks like and what you should look for in a running shoe. Luckily, we had wonderful, unified partners from Hillcrest who were available. They were so awesome and represent our program perfectly.”