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Monday, August 26 Business

WWE Stamford HQ rallies for Special Olympics

STAMFORD — Brett Glaser won gold and silver medals in tennis in last year’s national Special Olympics games. For his latest challenge, he found dozens of new teammates.

Joined by WWE Superstars Becky Lynch and Kevin Owens, about 100 WWE employees and other Special Olympians, Glaser turned out at the company’s headquarters Friday morning for a rally for a passing group of law-enforcement officials carrying a torch to the Connecticut Special Olympics Summer Games’ opening ceremonies in New Haven. The rally not only built up enthusiasm for the games — an event supported for many years by WWE — but also underscored the strong connection between the firm’s talent and fans such as Glaser.

“This is something that I’ll cross off the bucket list — I’m a big fan of Kevin,” said Madison resident Glaser, 33, while he tossed beanbags, in a match of cornhole, alongside Owens, in the headquarters’ front courtyard, at 1241 E. Main St. “His support and WWE’s support means so much to us.”

The duo’s partnership, alongside games of Giant Jenga and Connect Four involving employees and Special Olympians, represented the “play unified” principle, which joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams, to build friendship and understanding.

“The biggest reward I get is interacting with fans,” Owens said. “When you see how much you can touch somebody and help somebody’s life, whatever their struggles, that’s always motivating.”

Owens and Lynch were not contractually obligated to appear at the rally. But they said that they wanted to take part, and also attend the opening ceremonies Friday night at Southern Connecticut State University, because they saw such initiatives as a vital part of their work.

“Fan interactions — that’s why we do this. We’re not playing to empty houses; we’re playing for the fans,” said Lynch, who won the all-women main event at last April’s WrestleMania. “These athletes are so incredible, so welcoming and so loving. I think you always leave feeling bright, inspired and on top of the world.”

Special Olympians such as Glaser and Anthony Thibeault said that they came to WWE headquarters because they were keen to reciprocate the company’s backing for Special Olympics.

Playing Giant Jenga with Lynch was an unexpected, but thrilling, surprise for Thibeault.

“I wanted to be here to support WWE because they support us,” said Southington resident Thibeault, 40, who will be playing in the games’ soccer competition this weekend. “And I’ve had a lot of fun here. Playing Jenga with Becky was amazing.”

This weekend’s state Summer Games are set to feature about 2,500 athletes and Unified Partners, who are peers without intellectual disabilities, about 500 coaches and around 2,900 volunteers.

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At the same time, WWE’s support helps Special Olympics to build its presence in southwestern Connecticut. In Connecticut, and throughout the country, Special Olympics’ programming includes year-round sports training and athletic competition in several sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

“This type of event helps us in this part of the state in a big way,” said Special Olympics Connecticut President Beau Doherty. “Just the fact that we have all these employees here who care about us is immeasurably important to an organization like ours.”

The run that passed WWE headquarters, on a route from Greenwich to New Haven, comprised one of several running through the state this week to carry torches to light the cauldron at the opening ceremonies.

Those routes function like relays. Stamford police officers, for instance, took the torch from a group of Greenwich officers who ran from their town to Stamford. The Stamford contingent then handed it off to peers in Darien. The same process continues until the torch reaches its destination.

In total, about 1,500 law-enforcement officials participated in this week’s runs, according to Special Olympics officials.

Alongside its backing of Special Olympics, WWE supports many other nonprofits.

Among other recent initiatives, 26 children and their families attended the most recent WrestleMania, with the support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“It’s a part of WWE’s DNA to give back to the community, and it has been since our inception,” said Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s chief brand officer. “Our partnership is so important to these Special Olympics athletes and supporting the efforts of inclusion and ‘playing unified’ is critical to a healthy society.”

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott

Paul Schott|Staff reporter

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