Researchers from South Dakota head to S. Korea for Special OlympicsFor Special Olympians, the stress of the starting gate and the pressure to perform are not all that different from the heightened emotions felt by able-bodied athletes, a local researcher has shown.
By: Kayla Gahagan, Associated Press
RAPID CITY, S.D. — For Special Olympians, the stress of the starting gate and the pressure to perform are not all that different from the heightened emotions felt by able-bodied athletes, a local researcher has shown.
That research by a professor at Black Hills State University is useful because knowing that could change how the athletes and their parents or supporters prepare and react to competitive events, which could help the athletes perform better and feel better after.
But now, that researcher will test those theories a world away as she and a group of BHSU students head to South Korea for two weeks to attend and study athletes at the Special Olympics World Games in PyeongChang.
For Lauren Lund, the trip to South Korea later this month will not only aid the research, but it will also help her come out of her own shell.
Lund is one of 10 Black Hills State University students traveling to South Korea to study performance anxiety in athletes with intellectual disabilities. She said she has always been shy, too, which gives the research more meaning to her.
"In high school, I was involved, but not the person to go out and do something," she said.
But after working alongside assistant psychology professor Emilia Boeschen to learn more about the differences between the levels of anxiety of athletes with intellectual disabilities and athletes without, Lund feels differently about herself.
"Throughout this project I could see myself continue to open up," she said, which included learning how to lead others, working in a team, and sharpening her skills as a researcher.
Boeschen will lead the BHSU team to PyeongChang for the Special Olympics World Games and spend two weeks with athletes from around the world. The team's research begins Jan. 28 with the opening ceremony. Most of the trip will be paid for through private donations.
Boeschen began research for the project in 2007 while a doctoral student at the University of North Dakota. She brought the project to South Dakota after having interviewed officials and athletes around the state and region. The work continued at BHSU, where she recruited students and graduate students to assist.
The question, she said, is asking whether athletes with intellectual disabilities experience heightened levels of anxiety when they compete at the international level.
Boeschen hopes her research will be used to understand better ways to address treatment of athletes with anxiety, including how to better train coaches and parents and officials who work with athletes with intellectual disabilities.
"This is the start of everything," Boeschen said. "It's a dream realized for me."
In her research in North Dakota and South Dakota, Boeschen discovered that athletes with intellectual disabilities do experience similar levels of competitive anxiety.
Discovering more information in South Korea will benefit not only the Special Olympics community, but also the scientific research community, said Nicole Jurgensen, a team member who is a psychology major from Rapid City.
"We're going to be able to take real, practical information and pass it along to athletes and coaches and parents," she said.
While in South Korea, they will have backstage access to the event before the opening ceremonies and will gather research during the snowboarding, cross country and downhill skiing events. They will also attend the speed skating, figure skating and floor hockey events.
More than 1,000 athletes will compete at the event, which is attended by more people than the Olympics, Boeschen said.
The team will also attend the Global Development Summit on Ending the Cycle of Poverty and Exclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
Boeschen said the students will listen to several international dignitaries, including the president of Malawi, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma (Myanmar).
Lund is looking forward to her first time out of the country and getting to participate in a research project makes it even better.
"It's the opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "It's a huge opportunity to do what we've been doing in South Dakota, but on a much larger scale."
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.