My Experience with Special Olympics

Corrin Rogers is a Youth Activation Committee Member from Delaware… this is her Special Olympics experience.

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I first got involved in Special Olympics through friends, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life. I was first involved through the 2012 Polar Bear Plunge. I was shocked and touched by how motivated the participants were in supporting Special Olympics. It was cold and windy, yet the spirit of the plungers brightened the event. Attending the Plunge that day truly inspired me to support Special Olympics Delaware.

I then started getting involved with other Special Olympics events, including Fans in the Stands for the Summer Games. Watching all the athletes up close taught me that being involved in Special Olympics really can make a difference in the personal impact of others.

I was then encouraged to apply for the Project UNIFY Youth Activation Committee and was honored when I was accepted as a member. Being on this committee has further increased my knowledge and participation with Special Olympics. I have become more aware that inclusion is not just an idea, but an action that can make a change in the lives of athletes.

Perhaps one of my favorite experiences was being a Unified Partner of the Newark team. Although I was certainly not the best bowler, my bowling partner and I realized that having fun and trying our best was truly the greatest achievement.

Being involved in Special Olympics, from the sports to the inclusive camaraderie, has enriched my life.

Inclusion: A Necessity for Fully Engaged Students

The following blog post was written by a unified pair of youth leaders who participate in local and national youth engagement and activation conferences to enhance their communication, leadership, and advocacy skills.  These youth continue to collaborate and motivate other youth to become active in our pathway towards social justice for all. 

Looking at the aspects that create schools where students are able to express their ideas, engage in meaningful leadership opportunities, and develop a collaborative relationship with the staff to address the needs of both students and teachers is challenging, yet important.  One word that is indirectly included in each of those aspects is inclusion.  Inclusion can be defined in many ways each catering to a certain situation.  However, there are common characteristics that we can define as being inclusive: students of all abilities, religions, gender and race are offered equitable opportunities for academic, social and physical growth; students perceive their peers as valued individuals with unique assets to the school community; everyone is included in the schools’ student body, regardless of popularity, athletic ability or academic achievement.

Perspective from a youth leader with an intellectual disability:
There are many experiences of authentic inclusion at our schools.  When I attended High School, I wanted to join an afterschool club.  One of the clubs I was interested in was the Drama Club because I like to act.  I asked the teacher, Mr. Pody, if I could join and he said yes!  The Drama Club met once a week and we did acting exercises as well as performances.  We also put on a big show at in the spring and the entire school attended.  Mr. Pody gave me a good acting part in the show and showcased my abilities.  I played a big supporting role and I opened the show with a monologue too.

Being a part of a club made me feel included and a true participant in the school life.  It gave me something to look forward to every week!  My Drama Club friends would say hi to me in the hallways and it was a great feeling.  I think that if it were not for the Drama teacher, Mr. Pody, I would not have been able to be a part of itMr. Pody believed I could do it and he did not exclude me because of my disability.  By including me, he gave me one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Another example of inclusion was when I joined a Special Needs cheerleading team.  Many high school students volunteered to help with practice every Sunday.  One of these high school students was Kaitlin and she became my good friend.  Kaitlin was very helpful and really believed that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.  Bringing together young people with and without disabilities allowed us to spend time together and gain understanding of one another.

Sometimes people are afraid to be near people who are different, but once they see that we are just people, they can understand that there’s no reason to be afraid.  Kaitlin saw that I was a teenager just like herself, and we had a lot in common.  We laughed, told jokes, and shared secrets.  We are still good friends today.  Kaitlin is now a youth leader in her high school and has been inspired to join Special Olympics Project UNIFY®.

Based on our personal experiences, below is a list for how others can work towards authentic inclusion in their school:

  • Implementation of a Special Olympics Project UNIFY® Club, which works to educate, motivate and activate young people to become agents of positive change.
  • Organization of a Spread the Word to End the Word Event to raise awareness about the derogatory use of the word, “retard” and its hurtful impact on people with disabilities.
  • Education about the history of the disability movement will show students the individuals who have made strides in this movement of acceptance, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
  • Coordinate a “Fans in the Stands” Event at a local Special Olympics competition.

“It’s a Wonderful Winning World”

Our third blog entry from a National Youth Activation Committee (YAC) member comes from Courtney Neil of Massachusetts. Courtney along with her sister, Alyssa Neil, has been a part of the National YAC since its inception in the Fall of 2008. Courtney recently attended the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece where she was a ‘Fan in the Stands’ for her sister, Alyssa. Here is what Courtney wrote about her experience in Greece:

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Athens, Greece is more than a city filled with beautiful scenery and vast history, it’s a city that opened its doors to a world where anything can happen; a world that is accepting, inclusive, and truly the best place to be.  From June 26-July 4, this monumental city hosted the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

The first thing I noticed in the city when I arrived was its beauty. The city was something I’ve only seen in pictures and it was an incredible sight to see.  The next thing I noticed was, I had never met so many friendly people, who would do anything to make me and my family feel welcome.  It was so heart-warming to feel like I belonged there, and not just intruding in their home.  It was the perfect setting for these monumental Games.

I have been with Special Olympics since I was 11 years old, competing alongside my sister Alyssa who has an intellectual disability. We have always played together, as a team, standing alongside each other, and being there if we needed someone to pick up the slack.  This past September was when we got the news that she had been chosen to represent the United States of America in Athletics.  This was the first time she would be on her own, showing what she had to offer the world and I couldn’t be more proud. Instead of standing behind her and supporting her, I was on the sidelines, watching my sister be the star she’s always been.

She was so amazing on that track, and she did such an amazing job that I cried every single time she ran overcome with happiness that she had done it on her own and all her hard work and training had paid off.  She wasn’t the only star on that field though; every single athlete that step foot on that track gave their all and exemplified the meaning of the Special Olympics.  One of my favorite races was a 100m Dash.  A boy who spent most of his day confined to a wheel chair stood up to stand alongside his competitors, and the race began.  He ran his race, it didn’t matter that the others were faster; he was going to do his best and finish that race.  Everyone in the stands started clapping in unison, and cheering and chanting, fans from America, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Ecuador, and fans from everywhere, volunteers, and officials were cheering this athlete on.  It was so moving to see how enthusiastic all these people, from all these different backgrounds came together to support this athlete in his race.  The best moment was when he finished his race.  He threw his arms over his head, jumping, waving and smiling as he was getting situated back in his chair, and the crowd erupted with applause and rose to their feet jumping with him, celebrating his victory.  It was so wonderful to see all these people come together to support someone in their dream.  The funny thing was: I didn’t expect anything less from this amazing group of people.

I am so proud to be a part from such an incredible group of individuals.  I have immersed myself fully in this wonderful organization and have never been more proud to declare myself as a Unified Partner for the Special Olympics. Seeing so many others who commit themselves to the values and ideals of this organization, only gives me that much more confidence that I am doing something right and I will continue to fight for the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and most importantly cheer them on!

Fans in the Stands- Athens, Greece

Our second blog entry from a National Youth Activation Committee (YAC) member comes from Emily Reyes of Missouri. Emily is a member of Special Olympics Missouri’s YAC and has been a part of the National YAC since its inception in the Fall of 2008. Emily recently attended the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece where she was a ‘Fan in the Stands’. Here is what Emily wrote about her experience in Greece:

Hey! This is Emily Reyes from Missouri. I am a member of the Missouri and National Youth Activation Committee. This summer I was able to attend the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. They were a blast!

Thousands of people from across the world came to be Fans in the Stands! Flags were waving in the air and the names of the athletes and countries were being chanted. That was just some of the things that you saw or heard when you stepped inside the venues.

I was able to watch the Team USA softball team play for gold! The USA gymnastics team were already there cheering when we got there. They let us borrow some of their fan wear and join them with all the dancing they were doing. They would cheer for the Team USA players and dance between the innings. During the song the YMCA one of the athletes changed up the words from “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA.” to “It’s fun to be part of TEAM USA.” I didn’t think that I could get goose bumps in 90 degree weather, but I do now.

At the aquatics venue the Fans in the Stands were pretty intense. As each country swam their fans would cheer their athletes on. I know that when the Team USA athletes hit the water their fans were on their feet cheering.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games were a sight to see! It didn’t matter where you were from, a smile was a smile, a laugh was a laugh, and Fans in the Stands were Fans in the Stands! I was proud to be a Fan in the Stand!

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