Hudacko, 21, was selected by Special Olympics of New Jersey for the Garden State’s volleyball team at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, held from June 14 through 21. He is the lone Hudson County representative on the squad.
Hudacko will be one of the 270 athletes representing the state, and one of the 3,500 participants from across the country.
Competitions will be held at venues throughout Mercer County including Princeton University, Rider University, The College of New Jersey, Mercer County Park, and several area private schools.
The games will celebrate the Special Olympics movement while promoting the ideals of acceptance and inclusion through sport and highlighting the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Hudacko was ecstatic when he found out he was chosen to compete.
“I was dying,” he said. “I was like, ‘Yes, I got the letter.’ I couldn’t believe it. I am very happy to be on the team.”
Perks include free clothing and Adidas shoes.
Hudacko took part in the Olympics’ opening ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark on Sunday. Not only was he among the athletes who paraded into the arena, but it is the stadium of his beloved New Jersey hockey team.
“I’m a Devils fan, so it’s even better I got to go to my home arena,” Hudacko said. “So it was more exciting.”
As the week progresses, Hudacko anticipates even more fun, with a boardwalk-themed Olympic town, a Special Olympics Unified Sports Festival, and the closing ceremonies at Sun National Bank Center on Saturday.
Hudacko has been involved with the New Jersey Special Olympics since 2005, competing in bowling, swimming, snowshoeing, and volleyball. He has been the recipient of several gold, silver, and bronze medals in these events. But this is his first national competition.
Volleyball play started on Monday with matches in his group, which consists of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are the medal round games.
“I want to get the gold; that’s been the goal,” he said. “I’m confident about getting it. I have a pretty good serve. So they’ll have to watch out.”
His volleyball skills have been honed over the years, playing for the Bayonne Recreation Spikers. His teammates and coach are happy for him and supportive, rooting him on. Coach John Valdora gave him his pep talk.
“He said, ‘Just go out there and do well for Bayonne,’" Hudacko said.
His mother, Sheila, said her son can’t stop talking about his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“He’s flying over the moon about it,” she said. “He’s so excited. He wants to do his best. To be with his teammates, and put his best foot forward.”
Her son’s pride comes not only from his making the team, but also because he’ll be representing his home state right here in New Jersey.
His mother sees benefits in her son’s Special Olympics selection that are not just athletic.
“It’s taught him about playing with others,” she said. “About taking turns, about self-confidence, making new friends, and helping in socialization. It’s just built him up in so many ways.”
She’s beaming over her son’s accomplishment.
“It’s wonderful, if you consider from where he came as a young child of five and told he wouldn’t be able to accomplish things in life,” she said. “He’s just become a great competitor. And I look at him with such pride. This accomplishment is his.”
Hudacko has been supported over his career with Special Olympics by his coaches: Valdora, Denise Bawiec, Tessie Diaz, and Area Director for Hudson County Anita Nedswick.
Hudacko said he is thankful for all the support from the Bayonne Recreation team members whom he has played volleyball with over the years.
Hudacko is a Bayonne High School graduate and is a volunteer at Bayonne Medical Center in the Nutrition Department. He is active with the Elks Lodge No. 434, the Bayonne Recreation Department Ability Camp, and its Tuesday Night Social Group.
What happens if he does not reach his goal of a gold medal at the national Special Olympics?
“I will still come home happy,” Hudacko said. “Even If I come in first, second, or third—or beyond that—I’ll still be happy. As long as I’m representing my county and my state of New Jersey I’ll be happy.”