A Special Meaning for Special Olympics

Every once in awhile we get to hear powerful and impactful stories from people involved with Special Olympics and Project UNIFY in their school. The following is an amazing poem that truly gets to the heart of Special Olympics. The poem comes from 17-year-old Jessica, a high school student and Special Olympics New York athlete. Jessica wrote the brief introduction to her teacher as a thank you for getting her involved. 

Ms. Virga – I wanted to thank you for being the greatest person in Commack [High School]. You run so many great event and without you bringing Special Olympics to Commack, I  would not have met all my new friends. You are truly a great person and have a great heart you are the greatest person 🙂

A poem I wrote:

S is for special

P is for power

is for expectation

C is for coaches

is for imagination

A is for acceptance

L is for love

O is for Olympic

L is for line up at starting line

is for y cant this be everyday

M is for more friends

P is for positivity

I is for ice cream after the dance

C is for caring

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Inspired to Lead

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.

Together We Are Greater

The following guest blog comes from Juan L., a partner at Neuqua Valley High School and a co-chair of the Special Olympics Illinois Youth Activation Committee.

Everyone was cheering, and people surrounded us yelling congratulations, giving us high fives, and big hugs. We felt like we were on top of the world for a moment, it was truly one of the best feelings in the world.

Our names are Juan and Liam and we are two of the co-chairs for Project UNIFY. The cheering and praise was a result of our fantastic first place prize in our schools dance competition, Neuqua Knows It Can Dance. It was our third year doing the dance competition and it has always been a blast with a mix of friends with intellectual disabilities and their peers.

This year we wanted it to be perfect, so we started early practicing and practicing till we coud do the dance in our sleep. Although, we had never won before and didn’t expect to this year (since we exceeded the maximum amount of people in a group allowed) it came to our surprise when they announced the winners of this years dance competition. The moment they said “PEER PARTNER ROCKSTARS” our entire group erupted in cheers and all of our peers were equally ecstatic.

Looking back on that night I could truly appreciate the hard work we all put into it, to show that people with intellectual disabilities are able to accomplish the same things that other people can do. When we were talking about that night, Liam said his favorite part was when everybody cheered for him. In our society many people don’t realize the potential and awesome talent that Special Olympics athletes have and it feels great to finally be recognized.

That entire week we were treated like royalty in the halls and everyone kept telling us how great we looked and how well organized it was. Liam and I felt so proud not only on our victory, but on our school’s support. It is good to know that our school not only has a program for students with intellectual disabilities, but encourages them as well. The last day of that week we were able to perform at the school pep rally in front of four thousand students. I think that was when we really shined, and not just because of our neon costumes.

Our dance not only showed that we had mad dance skills, but that students with intellectual disabilities are capable of amazing things and that together we can be even greater.

Live a Life of RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE

For the past 6 years I have been highly involved with Special Olympics and Partners Club, an inclusive club where students with and without intellectual disabilities can come together for sports training and competition.

It all started the first few weeks of High School … There may be a few guys out there that can relate, but I first got involved with Special Olympics when a pretty girl asked me to come to a lunchtime meeting at school. Of course I said yes! But little did I know that lunchtime meeting would end up changing the way I look at life and ultimately change how I look at other people.

At East Anchorage High School in Anchorage, AK I was immersed in a very diverse school atmosphere, with students coming from all different ethnic backgrounds, so naturally I was used to seeing different people around the hallway. Partners Club, however, showed me how fun life can be when you treat people with RESPECT! My first year in Partners Club I was part of a group of students who enjoyed interacting at lunch, practicing sports after school, and competing in high level sports competition. While that may seem like a pretty typical group of students, it was better because we were all about inclusion and making sure people felt accepted.

Besides the sports aspect of our Partners Club, we also ran a daily Espresso Shop. We had students with and without intellectual disabilities making drinks, taking orders, running the cash machine, and interacting with our customers. This inclusive coffee shop offered an opportunity to showcase our club — showing our student body how much fun we had together and emulating what friendship truly looks like when you recognize people for their abilities rather than their disabilities.

In the following years of high school I was a part of a movement of young leaders that wanted to see change in the school atmosphere  (and did!). Every week we held meetings, made announcements over the school system PA and wore our Partner’s Club tie-dye t-shirts on Tuesdays; we even hosted Spread the Word to End the Word campaigns to eliminate the R-word from our campus. Seeing teachers and students in the hall wearing tie-dye was amazing – everyone wanted one because they knew the t-shirts represented RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE.

When I went to college at Washington State University, I was welcomed with open arms and held a weeklong Spread the Word to End the Word campaign in my first year. I also hosted a three-day bowling event with Special Olympics athletes and WSU athletes (our school’s quarterback even showed up because his friends told him it was fun)!

In my second year at the University, the head coach of the University Bowling Team became a volunteer coach for my unified bowling team and offered to host a bowling tournament with the WSU student athletes from other sports teams. Finally after working with the WSU athletics department they decided they wanted to host the Special Olympics Washington East Region Basketball Tournament at our school!

These are just a few examples of how an inclusive school atmosphere can truly change the way students; teachers, administrators, and community members treat people inside and outside school. In the last six years Special Olympics has been an instrumental part in my life and I hope you too will embrace the movement, live a life of RESPECT and ACCEPTANCE and benefit from positive interactions with everyone you meet.