Return to Play makes for a special reunion for two athletes

October 1, 2020 Blog, Featured

Best friends David Hagens (L) of West Madison Area Special Olympics and Jacob Zydowsky of Silver Lake Special Olympics

27 athletes and Unified partners were thrilled to compete in Special Olympics Wisconsin’s first sports tournament in six months when they participated in the Southern State Golf Tournament on Sunday, September 13 at Kestrel Ridge Golf Course in Columbus.

But for Jacob Zydowsky of Silver Lake Special Olympics and David Hagens of the West Madison Area Special Olympics, the event held extra special meaning.

“I had a fun time playing with Dave. We’re like a family together.” – Jacob Zydowsky

The best friends and longtime friendly rivals had been looking forward to this moment for quite a while. Although they had been able to talk by telephone during the pandemic, this was their first time being able to see each other in person.

“It was just thrilling when they saw each other for the first time. The smiles started and never ended,” said Jacob’s mom, Anne Zydowsky, who served as David’s caddie during the tournament in a testament to the pair’s friendship. “That’s how awesome Special Olympics is. It’s just like one big family.”

After competing against each other for many years in golf and basketball, the two formed a unique rivalry. “They’re both very competitive and blessed athletically,” Anne Zydowsky said. “They kind of go back and forth. Last time David won but Jake won this year.”

While Zydowsky earned the gold this time around and Hagens took silver, that was far from their only concern. Over the years, a special bond that transcends competition blossomed out of their friendly rivalry.

“I had a fun time playing with Dave. We’re like a family together,” Jacob Zydowsky said.

Like most athletes, Hagens and Zydowsky struggled at times with the restrictions put in place during the pandemic. After learning that his basketball team wouldn’t get to go to state after qualifying for the Indoor Sport Tournament, Zydowsky even wrote a letter to the Badgers’ star player Brad Davison to find comfort in their shared situation of canceled basketball. Davison generously responded with a video message that helped lift his spirits.

Anne Zydowsky also credits Jacob’s employer, Northwoods Inc. in Portage, for helping him brighten his spirits once they reopened.

Hagens, meanwhile, wasn’t able to come over to the Zydowsky’s home for fun dinners like he was accustomed to. For many athletes like Hagens and Zydowsky, Special Olympics is their main way to stay connected, active and engaged. Social distancing has sometimes meant social isolation.

That’s why after six months of no Special Olympics, both athletes were just happy to be out on a golf course with their best friend.

“We had lots of comments from athletes and families who were just saying, ‘thank you so much for putting this on.’ Everyone was so happy to be back at a Special Olympics Wisconsin event so that made it an extra joyful environment.” – Nicole Christensen, athletic director for South Central Wisconsin and the event organizer

“The course was tough but I was able to get through and have an absolute blast,” Hagens said.

The tournament was Special Olympics Wisconsin’s first since cancelling all events on March 11 due to COVID-19. It was also the first event in Special Olympics Wisconsin’s Return to Play Plan, which gradually and safely reintroduces social distancing-friendly activities with safeguards in place.

“The Southern State Golf Tournament was such a fun event. We had lots of comments from athletes and families who were just saying, ‘thank you so much for putting this on,’” said Nicole Christensen, athletic director for South Central Wisconsin and the event organizer. “Everyone was so happy to be back at a Special Olympics Wisconsin event so that made it an extra joyful environment.”

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is and always will be Special Olympics Wisconsin’s number one priority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, stories like David and Jacob’s highlight how athletes have been hit especially hard by this pandemic and how much it enriches their lives to be able to safely participate in Special Olympics Wisconsin events.

“We are so thankful to Special Olympics Wisconsin, Nicole, Jodi Runstrom (the Silver Lake Agency Co-Manager) and all the coaches who helped make this happen,” said Anne Zydowsky.” “It meant so much to the athletes.”


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