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

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The Blessing of Friendship

For Special Olympics athlete and National Youth Activation Committee member Jared Niemeyer, friendship is a blessing that he’ll never take for granted. Read his inspiring blog to see why. 

Friends are people who care about you, respect you, really listen to you, are thoughtful and do nice things because they want to see you smile, but most of all – you are important to them because you matter!  I have some really great friends!

As a Special Olympic athlete I have a lot of friends with intellectual or developmental disabilities.  We love doing things together; we care about what happens to each other, we encourage each other and look out for each other.  We are friends and enjoy doing things together! Special Olympics has given us the opportunity to experience a lot that some of us would never have had the chance to do.  We also play Unified Sports, so many of our teammates are also Unified partners and don’t have disabilities; we are friends and have a lot of fun working and playing together.

Going to a public school that promotes inclusive education also allows you to be friends with all students. We get to know one another well; we work and study together and enjoy being together every day. Sometimes you have to make your own way; be friendly so others learn who you are and what you can do. Usually, I make friends with others easily and am a great friend. One year during a Special Olympic area event the Varsity and Junior Varsity baseball team came to cheer me on!!!! They had made signs because they wanted to help me just like I help them as the baseball manager!! It was awesome to have my friends there cheering me on!

I graduated from high school in 2011 and work in our community.  I even moved into a place of my own with a friend of mine; Max and I graduated from high school together and planned to live independently within 2 years.  Our parents helped us figure out how we could afford living on our own, helped find a duplex in a residential neighborhood, and taught us how to manage every day. The day we moved in one of my friends from school stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood!  He wanted to make sure we knew how to reach him if we needed anything or just wanted to talk.  He’s a great friend and we have Bible Study regularly – he graduates in May and will be going to West Point next fall. Another friend’s parents live around the corner and I can reach them anytime – his dad is a police officer and we’ve done the Torch Run together! I’ve learned so much about being a good friend because of the experiences and opportunities I’ve had.

Special Olympics isn’t just about amazing people – it’s about being all you can be and doing all you can! Opportunities teach you a lot – I even have an entire YAC (Youth Activation Committee) family because of Special Olympics Project UNIFY.

A lot of my friends don’t have disabilities; I’m so grateful that they look at me and see who I am, not just seeing that I am someone with a disability. I have value to my friends – they care and truly listen. They tell me that I’ve taught them about respect and thoughtfulness.

I’m blessed to have the friends I do!

A Story of Transformation

Being a part of Project UNIFY, I get to read a lot of stories about Special Olympics impacting students and school communities across the U.S. I constantly hear great stories of success where students with intellectual disabilities are respected and treated as equals in their school. Sadly, I also read things that illustrate how much work we still have to do. But on a Friday afternoon, I want to share one story of transformation that gives me hope that change can, and will, happen.

Be inspired by Elementary student Kayla Davis and her journey to understanding:

Kayla (right) with partner Maron

“When I was first asked if I wanted to help the Special Education kids with Physical Education last year, my answer was a resounding no my reasons being that I was fearful and had no experience with Special Ed kids. They were scary, and gross. Why would I want to help them? But the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself to try it, just once. My teacher and my parents backed me up completely, but still I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it because I felt uncomfortable and scared. I knew nothing about Special Ed in general and had planned on never interacting with the kids. I had what you could call the “public opinion.” But as I soon found out, being a PE helper was very different than I thought.

The moment I walked into the gym, I knew it was nothing like I had expected. I had thought they would have trouble walking, let alone doing the things we, the 5th and 6th graders were doing. They played volleyball, soccer, basketball, and everything else we learned. I was entirely surprised. I soon learned their names; Jenna, Maron, Jodie, Jacob, Andy, and Riley. This year we have 3 new kids too. I was paired up with Jenna, a spirited kindergartener. It was fun going there every Tuesday and Thursday. I grew to look forward to it, treasuring the half-hour I had to spend with these students. My favorite part was watching the improvements while they were learning. I got my buddy from just looking at the basketball, to pushing it upward!

My view of the Special Ed kids changed greatly. They weren’t a different race; they were normal people with a special perk. One of the things that changed my perception was interacting with them. They laughed, cried, and loved, just like us. As I continue working with them this year, (this year my partner is Maron), I continue to enjoy it, more than ever because I have learned more about how to understand them. In addition to PE helpers, our school has recently formed a Partners Club, working with Special Olympics and Project Unify. I am proud to say that my whole class is involved in this amazing opportunity. I hope that if you ever have an amazing opportunity that you try it, just once.”
– Kayla Davis, Boise, Idaho