Today’s guest blog post comes from Special Olympics Delaware youth leader Lauren Conley, who is currently a student at the University of Delaware.
I can remember being six-years-old, standing on Rehoboth Beach along with thousands of other Special Olympic supporters, bundled up in my snow gear holding my dad’s towel as he proceeded to plunge into the icy Atlantic Ocean. Twenty years ago, my dad, was dared by a patient of his to embrace the cold for an outstanding organization and take part in the Delaware Polar Bear Plunge. Since then, Special Olympics Delaware as changed the life of my family through miraculous experiences we continue to witness today.
For the past 18 years, Special Olympics has been much more to me than just a chance to get some community service hours. Special Olympics has served as my second family and the place where I learned the true essence of perseverance, respect, inclusion, and acceptance. Through my involvement as a Unified Partner, swim coach, and camp counselor, the dedication and drive each athlete displays reminds me every day that we are capable of all things, some deem impossible. Those who wander outside the atmosphere and community of Special Olympics will never know the life changing experiences this organization provides to those with and without intellectual disabilities.
Through my experiences, I have longed to attract more people my age to come and discover the greatness of Special Olympics. For so many years, Special Olympics was something I did with my family; however, as I started developing a better understanding for Special Olympics, I found that I wanted my friends and peers to experience the fantastically overwhelming environment I had been exposed to my entire life.
That is why I started my high school’s Project UNIFY club two years ago. Our club is devoted to volunteering at Special Olympics sporting events, promoting awareness about Special Olympics and having students take the lead through Project UNIFY. In high school, I began to understand what Special Olympics really meant to me when I witnessed the bullying of a fellow athlete and classmate. Through Project UNIFY, I was inspired to lead others to help change people’s attitudes towards those who are different. From that moment on I can truly say that without Special Olympics I would not be the person I am today.
Special Olympics athletes have ignited the passion within me to make sure those with intellectual and physical disabilities receive respect, dignity, and loyalty from their peers. These athletes are capable of so much more than the stereotypes the world outside of Special Olympics portrays. They are individuals with caring souls, minds of determination, and the desire to be treated like the rest of us. They have given me the greatest gift I could ever ask for — inspiring me to have a voice and to see the strengths that lie within myself to be the best person I can be.
In return, I will do all I can to help keep this organization alive and well here in Delaware or wherever my path may take me. The athletes of Special Olympics deserve a chance to show the world all that they are capable of, as well as a chance to make friends, experience happiness, and most of all, succeed in all that they do.