A Special Olympian spends her afternoons cleaning tables and talking to students in the busy food court, with the bright sunshine through the windows matching her cheerful demeanor. The sunshine brings promise of the opportunity to train for her career.
Lisa Elsener, dining services aide, competes in more than 11 events and has earned countless medals, including the Lockton Courage award.
“I chose [to start] competing in Special Olympics because I was told I had a learning disability,” Elsener said. “I was eight years old when I started … [competing in] track and field, swimming and ice skating.”
The Special Olympics means more to her than medals and record-breaking, it is also about the community and message the program shares. She is inspired by their motto,“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.”
“The volunteers, and making new friends inspires me,” Elsener said.
Her rigorous training schedule of swimming and running often takes up most of her spare time after work.
Although Elsener keeps busy with training, she makes time for her job at the college. Her determination made an impression on Em Smail, supervisor, Dining Services.
“Fifteen years I have been working with her,” Smail said. “She always does her job right. She is a really hard working person … always trying to do better. She is a really good employee.”
Elsener started working at the college in her senior year of high school, bussing tables and making friends along the way. However, it is not without hardship.
“I do have challenges I face,” Elsener said. “Sometimes I can’t make friends with people … and it’s hard to. It’s a part of my disability.”
Elsener’s effort to make friends around campus does not go unnoticed. Madison Smith, student, enjoys talking to Elsener between classes.
“She’s really pleasant and just really very personable,” Smith said. “I feel like we should communicate more with everyone around us … especially her because she is such a delight for everyone.”
Even though Elsener faces the challenge of trying to make new friends every day, she has the support of the people around her.
“She loves people,” Smail said. “She likes to talk to them, but she gets her feelings hurt sometimes. I always tell her that there’s always going to be a friend out there [who] … is going to want to talk to you and you can talk to anybody in here. This is a huge family.”