DISCOVERING SPECIAL ABILITIES

Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program is a non-profit (501c3), one of a
kind mainstream and inclusion based running, walking, and wheelchair racing team serving challenged individuals.  A true inclusion program, Rolling Thunder integrates special needs individuals with their typical peers at all team practices, races, and events.  The club originated in 1998, with less than 15 athletes.  Today, Rolling Thunder’s roster includes over 200 members!  Rolling Thunder is a nationally recognized team, training athletes several days a week, year round to successfully compete in mainstream road and cross-country races and track and field meets.  Rolling Thunder is a high performance running club, training all athletes to reach their maximum potential, by providing discipline and structure in a supportive and competitive atmosphere.  Many Rolling Thunder athletes regularly place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in races with their age matched typical peers! Rolling Thunder’s green uniforms have become a familiar sight on Long Island’s competitive running circuit.  Rolling Thunder’s athletes achieve what no one expects them to.  They have broken the stigma of being challenged by showing what they can accomplish as athletes.
  

All Rolling Thunder athletes, both able bodies and wheelchairs, have the opportunity to compete in at least 20 mainstream races across Long Island each year.  Races are a 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles) or 1 Mile Fun Run (for beginners) distance.  Experienced athletes may also compete in longer distance races, including 15K (9.3 miles), half-marathons, and full marathons.  Every spring and summer, team members also have the option to compete in several local track and field meets.  (Track meet events include distances from 50 meters to 2 miles, or hurdles, steeplechase, shot put or discus).  Rolling Thunder athletes also may have the opportunity to compete in mainstream national competitions, including the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics, Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (5K, half-marathon, and marathon), New Jersey Marathon Festivals, and other overnight trips.  Traveling as team members, sleeping overnight in hotels and eating meals together provides challenged athletes with increased opportunities for socialization.



Rolling Thunder holds annual social events to give athletes opportunities to socialize.  Social opportunities are often lacking in the lives of special needs individuals.  Every December, Rolling Thunder hosts a Holiday Party, where athletes, coaches, and their families dine, dance and take pictures with Santa Claus.  Athletes and coaches alike, can’t wait for July to roll around, when the team spends a day at Splish Splash Water Park, laughing and having a blast getting soaked together.





PROGRAMS OFFERED  

* Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program is composed of three divisions, based on athlete ability and age.  Team coaches decide when an athlete is ready to advance to the next division.  It is up to the coaches’ discretion to decide which competitions each athlete may participate in. 


1. Getting Started Program

For Rolling Thunder’s youngest athletes, ages 5-10 years old and for new athletes or for those requiring more help, the club offers a Getting Started Program.  This entry level program teaches athletes the fundamentals of the sport of running and stretching while they have fun playing games, such as relay races.  Athletes will develop the skills necessary to advance into Rolling Thunder’s Junior and Open Divisions. 


The Getting Started Program typically meets for 45 minutes each Tuesday evening.  In the fall, winter and spring practices are held at St. Josephs College in Patchogue.  During the summer, the Getting Stated Program meets in parks on Long Island with the Rolling Thunder Junior and Open Divisions.  Getting Started athletes typically compete in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meters events at track meets and in the one mile “fun run” at road races.  Check out the Rolling Thunder Calendar for details.        


2.  Junior Division

This program is designed for individuals in junior high and high school.  Athletes are given either a one-to-one coach or share a coach with two or three other athletes, depending on each athlete’s needs.  The goal of this program is for athletes to gain speed and endurance, learn the biomechanics of running, and develop confidence to advance to Rolling Thunder’s Open Division.  Another focus of
this program is for athletes to acquire the skills necessary to successfully participate on their local mainstream junior high or high school cross-country and track team.  Rolling Thunder’s most advanced junior athletes are given the opportunity to qualify to compete in the USA National Junior Olympics for track and field and cross-country.      


Practices for the Junior Division are held year round, typically Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Practices are held at St. Joseph’s College and at parks on Long Island.  Athletes in the Junior Division have the opportunity to compete in several dozen road and cross-country races and track meets year round.  Check out the Rolling Thunder Calendar for details.    



3.  Open Division

Athletes age 18 and up participate in Rolling Thunder’s Open Division.  Athletes continue developing speed, will increase their mileage and improve their running form.  This division is comprised of individuals who have aged out of the Junior Division and novice and advanced adult athletes.       


Practices for the Open Division are held year round, typically Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Practices are held at St. Joseph’s College and at parks on Long Island.  Athletes in the Open Division have the opportunity to compete in several dozen road and cross-country races and track meets each year.  Check out the Rolling Thunder Calendar for details.    


4. Swim Program


In January 2011, Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program started a weekly swim program to teach athletes swimming and cross-training techniques in the pool.  This program meets during the school year.  Check out the Rolling Thunder Calendar for details.    









WHO WE SERVE    

Developmentally and/or physically challenged individuals and their parents and typical siblings.  Rolling Thunder team members are of all athletic abilities and range in age from 5 through 50+ years old.  Everybody is welcome!  No one is turned away because of his/her disability. Rolling Thunder has athletes with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome, Hearing Impairment, Hip Dysplasia, Intellectual Delay, Learning Disabilities, Physical Limitations, Seizure Disorders, Vision Impairment and Multiply Handicapped.  Rolling Thunder serves ath
letes who can participate in a group as well as those who require a one-to-one coach at all times.   Check out Our Athletes page to learn how Rolling Thunder serves individuals with a wide range of abilities. 


Over 80% of Rolling Thunder athletes are on the autism spectrum.  Athletes cover the entire spectrum, from minimally verbal to those with Asperger’s Syndrome.  


Runners and walkers in the community and high school and college students who want to volunteer their time and effort to coach, train, and work with challenged individuals.  Check out Our Coaches page for more information.  This is a great way to earn community service hours!


Individuals of all athletic abilities are welcome.  Whether you are a sub 5-minute miler, a recreational athlete, a long distance runner, a sprinter, a beginner/novice, a uncoordinated individual with difficulty standing up and walking, or an individual looking to loose weight, Rolling Thunder has opportunities for you.  Rolling Thunder has challenged athletes who run a 5K (3.1 miles) in 16 minutes and others who need over one hour to complete the race.  




WHAT MAKES ROLLING THUNDER UNIQUE

Rolling Thunder is the first mainstream and inclusion based running, walking, and wheelchair racing club in the USA for challenged athletesWe are a member of Long Island Track and Field, and its parent organization, USA Track and Field.  Rolling Thunder is NOT a member of a disabled sports organization.  


Membership is free! Participation in all team practices and almost all races, a racing uniform, and racing wheelchair (if needed) are provided free of charge.  (Note- USATF membership may be required for participation in the most elite competitions.  USATF membership fee is $20/year for youth 18 and under and $30/year for adults).      


The entire family can exercise and improve their physical fitness at the same time and in the same place! Several families are members of Rolling Thunder Special Needs Program.  Parents and siblings of challenged individuals become acquainted, share experiences and may become great friends.  Check out Our Athletes page to learn more.


Joining Rolling Thunder will increase your physical fitness and provide social opportunities.  Team members, both those with special needs and typical peers have formed friendships with each other.  This opportunity is often missing in the lives of challenged individuals.  Also, an individual with minimal impairment has the opportunity to help individuals with more significant impairments.     


All coaches, fundraisers and event organizers are volunteers.  Rolling Thunder has no paid staff.   


Rolling Thunder provides elite training that has attracted several typical high school runners to train with our team.  They serve as role models for other team members. 


Several special needs athletes who have trained with Rolling Thunder for a few years have developed the ability to successfully participate on their local mainstream junior high or high school cross-country or track team.