Jackie Adams went through a difficult time in high school.
The 2010 Ocean City graduate and former girls soccer player suffered some concussions as a sophomore that caused her to miss her junior and senior seasons. She developed issues with concentration and had seizures and headaches.
Adams was not allowed to play sports again.
“It was really hard for me,” said Adams, 30. “I was really depressed.”
Adams soon found a new passion.
The Ocean City resident was selected to be an assistant track and field coach for Team New Jersey at the Special Olympics USA Games, which were held June 5-12 in Orlando, Florida. Adams coached two local athletes, Cameron DiTroia, 20, of Upper Township, and Christina Vassar, 31, of Erma.
DiTroia earned gold and silver medals.
“I love it,” Adams said. “They are probably the most gracious, excited people. They work really, really hard.”
People are also reading…
Adams coaches at the UT Challenger Sports Program, which is a coed recreational program in Upper Township that combines athletic and social events for individuals with special needs. The program features a Special Olympics track and field team, which competes at regions and states each year.
Every two years, coaches can try out to earn an invitation to coach Team New Jersey at the Special Olympics USA Games, which is held every four years. Adams applied and went to a tryout last June with other coaches at Lawrence High School in Mercer County.
“I got lucky. I got picked,” said Adams, who also helps coach the Ocean City High School girls soccer team.
Adams started at the UT Challenger as a senior in 2009. She played soccer one-on-one with a special needs athlete and fell in love. Adams coaches soccer, baseball and bowling in the program. In 2012, UT Challenger expanded to be a local training program for Special Olympics, in which she coaches floor hockey and track and field.
Ocean City plans to permanently host the Special Olympics Region 8 (Atlantic, Cape, Cumberland counties) track and field meet, Adams said. She works at the Ocean City Recreation Department.
“I was hooked on it,” Adams said. “I vowed not to let anyone sit out because of an injury or disability. I just wanted to help give back. They helped pull me through a really tough time. It’s just nice to be there for them and watch them grow and succeed.”
Being a coach is special because, on the outside, people see photos of athletes smiling after doing well, she said. The athletes smile a lot, Adams said. Coaches get to see the work they put in and how they overcome setbacks and adversity.
“To see them work through it as a coach and see that final smile as a result is just 10 times more rewarding,” Adams said. “You couldn’t be more proud of them for how much they work and try.”
And she saw plenty of smiles.
DiTroia won the gold medal in the 3,000-meter race in 9 minutes, 33.89 seconds. Team Michigan’s Julian Borst was second (9:48.90). DiToria earned the silver medal in the 5,000 run (16:40.62), finishing about two seconds behind Borst, who won the event.
“It was very cool,” said DiTroia, who recently completed his sophomore seasons with the Rowan University cross country and track and field teams.
Vassar was fourth in the 800 (4:08.36) and 1,500 (8:18.03) and sixth in the 4×100 relay (1:14.38). She was the first leg in the relay. She competed in the USA Games in 2010 and the World Summer Games in 2011
“It could have been better,” said Vassar, who wanted to earn a gold medal.
DiTroia and Vassar each praised Adams.
“Oh, she is a great coach,” DiTroia said. “It’s just her attitude, you know? She has this great personality that everyone wants to be around her.
Added Vassar, “She is the best.”
Maria Vassar, Christina’s mother, called Adams “a positive influence.”
“I definitely felt so comfortable leaving my athlete, my daughter, with Jackie,” Maria Vassar said. “Never did I ever second guess any of her choices or decisions. I never felt my daughter was unsafe or not being attended two.”
Overall, the Team USA track and field team featured 12 athletes and three coaches. The team was even treated to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, just some of the fun they had in Florida. The elder Vassar said the athletes still remain in contact, saying it is like a “lifelong friendship.”
“We really became a family,” Adams said. “We were nonstop laughing. Our athletes were so funny. We became friends with people all over the country. It was never a dull moment. It was always fun. I’m extremely grateful and appreciative of all the support, especially from home (in Ocean City), for me and the whole team. It was really amazing.”
Contact Patrick Mulranen: 609-272-7217