At Canterbury, everyone who knows Raymond Hadden loves him. He has been a fixture on the Dining Services team since 2004, and his mother, Theresa Rice, has worked in various administrative positions at the School for more than 21 years. But during a late February School Meeting, the campus community was introduced to a completely different side of Ray.
Speaking as part of Canterbury’s Saints on the Hill program, Ray shared his experiences growing up with a disability and his greatest passion in life—the Special Olympics.
At the age of three, having had issues with fine and gross motor skills, Ray was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities. He started school a year later, and it would become increasingly more difficult for him as he moved up in grades. “I enjoyed going to school until fourth grade,” he said. “Then I started to feel that I was different from my peers; not feeling very good about myself. It was suggested that I join Special Olympics, and it is one of the best things I have ever done.”
In 1984, he competed for the first time in track and field, and over the years became involved in downhill skiing, floor hockey, bowling, snowshoeing, unified basketball, and bocce. As he became more immersed in Special Olympics, Ray began to notice a change in himself. “All the support and encouragement an athlete receives during training and competing helps one feel good about themselves, building self-esteem and self-respect,” he said. “This gives you the self-confidence to try just about anything.”
And try anything he did. In 2002, the local coordinator recognized Ray’s passion for Special Olympics and asked him to join a panel of athletes who discuss and vote on issues to help improve the program in Connecticut. He said yes, and a whole new chapter in Ray’s life was launched. He held numerous leadership positions within the organization, culminating in becoming a Global Messenger for Connecticut Special Olympics.
“I was hooked. I realized Special Olympics was more than just a sports program,” he shared. “I started to get more involved with fundraisers, like the Penguin Plunge, Torch Runs, Tip-a-Cop events, and Dream Ride. In 2016, I was given the privilege to represent Connecticut Special Olympics in Australia’s first Dream Ride event. And I went to Washington, DC, to speak to our state representatives about the impact the Special Olympics program has on an athlete.”
He has received numerous accolades—including a Eunice Kennedy Shriver Award—but for Ray, the biggest reward is giving back. “Special Olympics is my passion. I love being able to spread the word and educate people about the mission and the positive impact it has had on my life,” he said. “Being a strong mentor and leader is important to me; watching someone learn and grow in their sport and have that feeling of accomplishment as I did when I first started.”
He certainly succeeded in spreading that word to his Canterbury family. Peter LaVigne, Assistant Head of School for Student Life, said it best: “You inspire us, Ray, and we appreciate you.”