Special Olympics strives to have the world be a kinder place, where all people feel accepted and included. This organization has shaped me into the person I am today. The athletes do not realize how impactful they really are on others. Without even trying, the athletes I coach have changed my life for the better. Their bubbly personalities, endless smiles, goofy jokes, and extreme determination have taught me how to be a better person. Being involved with Special Olympics has allowed me to be accepting of myself, gain leadership skills, and appreciate the bonds I make with people.
The one important life lesson I have learned since becoming involved with Special Olympics is to be accepting of myself. There are a lot of things I struggle with daily, such as my arthritis and OCD. Since the very first day of practice in 2017, I have been learning to be okay with who I am. All the athletes that I help do not look at themselves as inferior or that they have something horribly wrong with them. They do not know any other way of life besides the one they have chosen to embrace. The way they all continuously smile even if they get disqualified from their event is inspiring to me.
I have strived to be the best example for the athletes I coach. My general rule for myself was to show up a few minutes early to swim practice every Sunday so I would have extra time to catch up with the kids. When it came time for our swim meets, I would stay with them to calm them down as they made their way to the diving blocks. The second that buzzer went off and their fingertips hit the water, I screamed and cheered for every single one of them. By being a leader, I must be their friend and encourage them to reach their maximum potential. Leadership skills are an important skill to have as their coach, but these skills can also be applied to daily life.
One athlete I coach and hold very close to my heart is Cooper. He jumps up and down because he is so excited to see me every Sunday. He asks his dad incessantly if I am going to the next practice or the upcoming meet. Even though we get to swim side-by-side, at the end of each lap we stop and chat about tv shows (his favorite happens to be American Ninja Warrior). Despite the fact that I have a close relationship with Cooper, I am not even sure which intellectual disability he is diagnosed with because it has never come up in a conversation between us. We only see each other as caring and kind humans that bring happiness to those around us. The bond I share with Cooper, as well as the ones I have with the rest of my team, brings me great joy.
Over the few years I have been involved with this organization, I have grown to know the names of athletes that I do not even coach. Building bonds with everyone involved in the organization makes the whole experience of being a coach that much more special. The bonds that I create with everyone is more special to me than any award will ever be. I was only recognized because I did what everyone should do: accept everyone and include others in activities.
Having an intellectual disability should not be looked at in a negative light. Having the word “disability” associated with the brightest of smiles, the happiest of kids, and the most determined people is quite ironic. Special Olympics has taught me many valuable lessons, such as leadership abilities, appreciating the bonds I create, and to accept myself for who I am. The athletes go out there and compete in their events just like you and me. In my opinion, I say we should stop using the phrase “intellectual disabilities” and instead replace that with “intellectual specialties.” My time as a coach on my swim team has hit pause as I go to school, but the lessons my kids have taught me will forever play on. Always accept others, and always include everyone.