UI senior has passion for Special Olympics

BY CODY GREDELL | JULY 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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Since UI senior Justin Bucklin happened to stop at the Mayor's Youth Empowerment Program booth last August during a job fair, the 21-year-old has spent his days helping others gain independence.

Through the Iowa City program, he assists patients who are deemed emotionally unstable and suffer from mental-health disabilities.

"It's really great to see someone the age of Justin and a student at the university become involved with people with disabilities," said Carolina Warren-Collison, a service coordinator with the program. "It's really something you don't see too often with college students."

Thanks in large part to his involvement with the program, Bucklin became very active with the Special Olympics this past year. Bucklin, who began volunteering with the eastern Iowa agency in February, helps with sports such as soccer, track and field, and slow-pitch softball.

"It's one of those things that if you like or enjoy helping people out — it's one thing that's really satisfactory," Bucklin said.

He said at first he just drove the athletes to the events, but his amount of involvement quickly grew.

"At first, I really … kind of sat and watched," he said. "But as you see things happen, you see them enjoy it — you see other people enjoy it — you really want to get involved with it, and you really get something out of it."

Bucklin said he hopes his involvement with the Special Olympics will lead him into coaching.

"Coaching is always something I've wanted to do," he said. "I always took in a lot when I was playing [football] and when I couldn't play because I was hurt — so I'd spread that information."

Close friend Jack Bruns said he believes Bucklin would make an excellent coach.

"I think he would be great for it," Bruns said. "He was an all-conference player and was really like a coach on the field for us and was someone we went to instead of the coaches because we trusted his judgment, his genius."

Bucklin said his goal is to coach in the high-school ranks, but he would not mind coaching even younger kids. He would like to coach the sports he knows best — softball, baseball, and basketball.

For now, he is helping teach special athletes slow-pitch softball and track and field. For slow-pitch, Bucklin said he stresses the basics.

"Just doing the basics, like pop flies, ground balls, and how to hit," he said.

Warren-Collison said Bucklin could definitely make a difference as a Special Olympics coach.

"His motivation, his ability to communicate with people with disabilities — he's just really great; he's very motivated and very passionate," Warren-Collison said. "I think he could do anything he wants in his field and succeed."

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