By Zane Landin
Special Olympics coaches not only teach athletes how to play their respective sports and improve, but they play an active role in the athletes’ lives. Some coaches go above and beyond in their roles, exemplifying servitude and passion. Joyce Wittal is one example of an extraordinary coach who has demonstrated admirable qualities in leadership, empathy, and understanding.
A coach for more than a decade, Joyce began in 2010 with bowling and she also coaches golf and bocce ball. She never shied away from athletic opportunities before. In high school, she was a star athlete, lettering in multiple sports such as: softball, volleyball, basketball, and tennis.
Special Olympics Southern California is committed to helping athletes not only stay in shape for their sport seasons, but also maintain a healthy lifestyle year-round. This important goal during the pandemic sparked the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge, a program designed to help set healthy patterns and routines for all in their daily lives. Athletes can stay active during the quarantine by participating in these videos. They range from a plethora of different activities. Athletes also are awarded points by how involved they are in the challenge.
Joyce has been very active in the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge. Joyce, who continually participates in all the videos, said that the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge is making a huge impact on the athletes. She constantly shares the challenge videos with her teams, and makes sure to stay in constant communication with them.
“It is so worthwhile for the athletes to keep moving while we are apart,” Joyce said. “The great thing about the Healthy Lifestyle Challenge is that they can do it with anyone—a sibling, a parent, or virtually with their friends. They can change the exercises to better suit their pace.
“I like the whole package teaching athletes about hydration and nutrition, as well. They want them to realize that sustaining a healthy lifestyle can create a productive life.”
Joyce’s coaching journey with Special Olympics started with her son, Robert Wittal-Magdaleno, who she likes to refer to as “her favorite athlete.” He inspired her initially to get involved in bowling. While Robert attended Edison High School, Joyce was heavily involved in the Special Abilities Cluster, which is an on-campus organization on dedicated to providing students with disabilities opportunities to get involved in athletics and sporting activities. Joyce served as a booster club member, and eventually served as president for five years.
Robert’s passion for bowling sparked an idea for Joyce. There was not a bowling team, so she decided to pursue one. She participated as the organizer and coach for the team.
“The parents totally enjoyed supporting and being with their kids at the regional bowling competition,” Joyce said. “This was an opportunity to see them with their school friends, and compete at their level. The parents and students really enjoyed the activity. The parents were able to connect with each other, and saw their kids happy and healthy.”
It was such a success that the high school still offers the bowling team.
During one of the team’s practices, she witnessed a fellow coach from Special Olympics working with athletes. She had no idea that there was a bowling team for Special Olympics. She researched the organization, and was thrilled to get involved right away.
Robert became an athlete, and Joyce became a coach. Both of their passions for bowling strengthened their relationship. She currently coaches the Huntington Beach Lucky bowling team with 25 bowlers and nine coaches and the Huntington Beach Lucky golf team. She completed the coaches training for bocce ball, but COVID-19 hit around the time when she was going to begin.
“There are so many rewards to coaching,” she said. “Coaches are mothers, fathers, and mentors to the athletes. Some coaches are involved just for the love of the athletes. Coaches want to help the athletes and help them improve their abilities. It is such a happy time to see the positive interactions between everyone, the connections made, and the lifelong friends that are fostered from this organization. Being a coach is such a life changing and heartfelt experience that I am so proud of.”
Inside SOSC is a blog managed by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.