|Photo from http://www.specialolympics.org/|
Many people may be under the impression that athletes only learn from their coaches, or that special education students only learn from their teachers. In my experience working with special needs people, they have taught me many important lessons, possibly even more important than what I have taught them. As a Unified Sports partner, I have demonstrated how to control a soccer ball or how to improve teamwork skills during gym class. In conversations and observations, special needs people have taught me not to judge people before getting to know them, and they have shown me the importance of support among peers.
I have always been drawn to people with special needs and, at the age of 14, I began inquiring as to how I could become involved with Special Olympics. Approximately three months and many phone calls later, I joined the Shoreline Recreation Swim Team as a volunteer. Later that year, after several training sessions, I became a certified Special Olympics Aquatics Coach. My experience with the Special Olympics athletes over the past four years has made me want this connection not only once a week at team practices, but in my daily life.
During the past two years of high school, I have started my day by enjoying 45 minutes of adapted physical activities with the special education students. There are many benefits that come with being a Unified Sports partner. Before this gym class begins I am greeted with warm hugs and smiles that make my day complete before it has even started. I have also been taught life lessons without the special athletes ever speaking a word. After watching the athletes interact with each other, it becomes apparent that they do not judge people the way others do in our society. Skin, hair, and eye color, the clothes they may be wearing, the size of their bodies, the way they talk, their religion, their jobs, and where they live go unnoticed and are not nearly as important to them as they are to other people. Not only do they see people for who they truly are, they are also the most considerate and caring group of people I have ever met. It is not uncommon to see one athlete helping or cheering on another in our classroom or at Unified Sports events.
Through other random acts of kindness, they demonstrate the unity and support they share with each other within their segment of society that greatly contrasts with society at large.
I feel extremely fortunate that I am included in their circle through Unified Sports, coaching the Shoreline Recreation Swim Team, and being president of the Best Friends Club at my high school. I wish to keep this special connection in my life permanently by becoming a Special Education teacher in the future. Being a Unified Sports partner has provided me with many experiences that have taught me important life lessons while having fun and making friendships to last a lifetime.