Ryan Podann, Anthony Shonti and Justin Mazza are three of the most accomplished members of the Special Olympics Connecticut Unified Long Distance Running Team.
“We’re a team,” said Shonti, who has been the top Unified finisher five years in a row at the Marine Corp 10K in Washington, D.C. “Coach Bill picks us up and we go around.”
They typically run five miles a day to train for their upcoming races.
“We’ve got to train every day, five days a week,” said Podann, who has been competing with Special Olympics since he was 8 years old.
They’re training has paid off, earning them medals and trophies.
“I feel accomplished,” added Shonti, who was the first Unified Runner to place second in his age bracket.
The team is made up of more than 50 athletes, partners and coaches with sites in Wilton, Cheshire and Simsbury.
“At practices, we have about 20 other members. They look up to them as well and see what they’ve accomplished,” said Unified Long Distance Assistant Coach Brian McConnell.
On top of inspiring those around them, Podann, Shonti and Mazza have a passion to compete. Mazza is a Special Olympic Hall of Fame inductee after receiving the Unis Shriver Award for Sportsmanship.
“We’re competitors on the course and friends off the track,” added McConnell.
Distance running is teaching these athletes that hard work and preparation leads to success.
“The most important thing is not necessarily the trophies but the process and improvement,” said McConnell.
When outdoor running season comes to an end, all three athletes remain active with Unified Track and Field, croquet, basketball and floor hockey.