Just the beginning…

As students finish up their final tests and get ready for summer to officially begin, we wanted to share an amazing reflection from Special Olympics Rhode Island’s Youth Activation Committee Chair, Karolyn Sundberg. As Karolyn readies herself to transition from high school to college, she shares some powerful insights on the positive impact of Project UNIFY throughout her high school experience.  

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

As senior year and my time as Special Olympics Rhode Island’s Youth Activation Committee chair comes to a close – this quote offers advice that I will soon have to take.

Reflecting on this past year as Chair of the Youth Activation Committee (YAC) – there have been countless wonderful memories – new experiences, goals reached, friendships made, and people who were inspired to come together for a truly amazing cause.  I am so incredibly proud of and moved by the devoted young leaders of our SORI Project UNIFY movement;  so proud of those individuals who have been so dedicated to working on all of our projects this year. Now our goal is to continue to reach out to youth in our state to spread the ideas of inclusion, unity, and acceptance.

I am exceedingly grateful for such a wonderful experience.

My involvement with Special Olympics began in the fall of my junior year.  I was  assigned to help plan the SORI annual Youth Forum and immediately fell in love with the atmosphere that surrounded Special Olympics and everyone involved.  While at this point there were only about 15 members and meeting attendance was sparse, we still began to see how powerful and motivating youth could be when it came to promoting inclusion and unity in their high schools. At my first YAC meeting of this year – I was awed to see how many students had eagerly come out to get involved with the program.  In just one year, our YAC had grown so large that it was divided into 5 regions, where each region was assigned to different tasks and projects.  Through the YAC, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the kindest, hardest working students from every corner of the state.  All of us had one common purpose – to speak out for equality and acceptance among students with and without disabilities.

I remember at the first YAC meeting  – it seemed as if there was so much to be done.  However, I never would have imagined that we would have been able to achieve some of the things we did this year. The YAC planned and organized a Youth Forum for athletes, partners and coaches to learn about ways to promote inclusion and inspire unity. We planned and organized the very first Middle School Youth Forum in the Nation. We created a statewide newsletter to share our stories of success and spread the word about our cause. Also, we successfully encouraged high school students to participate and support the Torch Run Plunge and Spread the Word to End the Word campaign in their schools.  We had record numbers participate in both of events.

Most importantly, this year as the YAC chair, I witnessed how Special Olympics touches the lives and hearts of so many people in so many ways.  I experienced firsthand the difference it makes. Special Olympics taught me to embrace differences and recognize talents in everyone.  I now realize the importance of the positivity and support Special Olympics offers to everyone and the confidence one can find inwardly after becoming involved. I continue to be inspired by the work the SORI YAC is doing and am honored to have had the chance to be a part of such a great group of people.

I know that my involvement with Special Olympics is something that will not end, and I am so thankful for the opportunity.

2013 Special Olympics Rhode Island Youth Forum

2013 Special Olympics Rhode Island Youth Forum

Aspiration and Inspiration

The following guest post comes from Rajeswari Ranjan, a youth leader and advocate with Special Olympics Bharat (India). Over the last two years, Special Olympics Project UNIFY has expanded globally in five countries – Bharat, Austria, Italy, Serbia and Romania – thanks to the generous support of Ray and Stephanie Lane.  

SOBharatMy name is Rajeswari Ranjan of India! It gives me great pleasure to put down my experience as being a part of this prestigious community that strives to serve and reduce the gap between people with and without intellectual disabilities. It’s been more than a year since I have been associated with Special Olympics and Project UNIFY! Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, experience joy and friendship.

My special friends are not only filled with zeal but have a great courage in them to move on in life as each day passes by! They act as a role model for me because I believe that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until faced”. They are the real heroes of our generation because they have the courage and potential to face everything in life with great dedication and sincerity! They have inspired me to become like them! The only disability in life is a bad attitude!

Hence, from nowhere can my friends be called disabled because they live life to the fullest and are filled with positive energy! It’s been a great experience working with them right from the beginning of the Project UNIFY Youth Leaders Training Program, Opening Eyes Programs, Youth Activation Committee Workshop followed by the Unified Sports Festival, Project UNIFY Awareness Program and the Project UNIFY Cultural Program that I have attended to date! Being a sportsperson at the national level, I am very happy to regard myself as a youth leader!

Hats off to the entire team for such an innovative work! Everyone’s doing a great job.

Revealing the Champion

I recently competed in aquatics at the 2013 Special Olympics Virginia (SOVA) Summer Games in Richmond. This year’s Summer Games were different from previous, as heavy rainfall cancelled all the outdoor sports on both Friday and Saturday. While rain left most of the athletes with little to do, the athletes in Aquatics and Bowling were able to compete.

My delegation, Area 23 (Greater Prince William Area), had ten athletes and three coaches. While small, we brought home 19 medals out of the 30 events we competed in two days. We also had other members of our delegation come and cheer us on. It was a new experience for us.

Let's Go Greater Prince William Area

Let’s Go Greater Prince William Area

My individual events were the 25 meter Breaststroke, 50 meter Freestyle and Breaststroke. Coming into Summer Games, I had my mind focused on going all out to try and earn the opportunity to compete at the 2014 Special Olympics USA National Games. I knew that I needed to earn gold to have a shot. My first event final was the 25m Breaststroke. When the start signal went off, I swam as fast as I could and finished in first place with a time of 22.41 seconds. I was pretty excited that I won the first gold medal for my delegation.

Jerry winning the gold medal in 25m Breaststroke

Jerry winning the gold medal in 25m Breaststroke

Day two of the aquatics competition was energy packed day with the remaining event finals. My two event finals were the 50 meter Freestyle and Breaststroke. My 50 meter Freestyle event final was my first event of the day. I was nervous going into this final since I only swam twice in previous meets. When the start signal went off, I swam as fast I could and finished with the silver medal with a time of 46.52 seconds. I was happy with that result.

My 50 meter Breaststroke final was almost two hours after my 50 meter Freestyle final. When it was time for me to get into the water, I knew I was ready to go for the gold. When the start signal went off, I went into my zone of swimming fast and keeping my focus ahead. When I touched the wall, I looked straight at the scoreboard for my time. I won the gold medal with a time of 50.24 seconds. I was excited that I repeated for the third time in a row as the fastest 50 meter Breaststroke swimmer in Special Olympics Virginia.

Jerry winning the gold medal in 50M Breaststroke

After the aquatics competition was over, my team went back to the dorms. We were all proud of ourselves for what we accomplished over those two days of competition. I was proud of myself because I knew I had a chance of being selected for Team Virginia.

The Closing Ceremony was great and reminded me that I came to Summer Games on a mission and succeed in that mission. When Sunday came, it was kind of sad to be leaving Richmond after a great weekend of competition.

Every athlete from all five sports was happy that they got the opportunity to come down to Richmond. Regardless of competing or not competing, the smiles on the athletes’ faces are what are important of being a champion. In the end, there is a champion in us all and we revealed it in many different ways.

From the 2013 Special Olympics Virginia Summer Games

From the 2013 Special Olympics Virginia Summer Games