Special Olympics provides opportunities for those with mental, intellectual, and physical disabilities to participate in sports. I’ve always wanted Preston to compete in sports. I believed him being a part of something bigger than himself (being on a team) would give a boost of confidence, teach him discipline and structure. He attempted karate but he didn’t like it. Afterwards, I signed him up for a program especially designed for autistic children. They paired the kids with athletes to teach them the fundamentals of various sports. That started his growing interest in playing basketball. Yet, I knew he wasn’t prepared to try out for his school’s team. I still wanted him to have some structured physical activity so I considered enrolling him into Special Olympics. It took about a year to sign him up. By then, he missed the signup deadline for basketball but could join the swim team.
When Preston was 6 years old, he started taking swim lessons. I felt that was important due to gaining knowledge about how autistic children tended to gravitate towards bodies of water. In many cases, there were too many unfortunate outcomes. He started off slow but began to gain confidence with every accomplishment.
He joined Special Olympics swim team earlier this year. He worked hard in practice every week. Just recently, he participated in his very first competition in the Michigan State Summer Games. He was so excited! His teammates were encouraging him to get the gold. I think I was more anxious than him. I wanted him to do well but didn’t want to apply additional pressure.
I eagerly watched as the first meet was about to take place. I wanted him to get a medal but I just wanted him to do his best. That boy took off so fast. I was so happy to see go! I was so thrilled that I didn’t see where he placed at the end. One of his teammates told me he won the gold. Talk about being a proud mother!!! I basked in the glory that he came in first place but he had one more meet to go. My nerves were still on edge. He set the bar high coming in 1st place during his FIRST ever swim meet. The second was a little more difficult and, to my amazement, he won the silver medal!
Preston was so proud! It showed him that hard work continues to pay off. What I was even more happy about was the entire experience. Just as it was his first time in a competitive sport, it was also our first time experiencing the magic of what Special Olympics gives the athletes. It allows them the opportunity to shine. Even though it’s competitive, it honors every athlete who’s participating. For example, people were still encouraging every competitor to finish. They were cheering until the last one crossed the finish line. For the Summer Games, there were approximately 2900 athletes participating. They say Disney is the happiest place on Earth but I would have to disagree. I never saw so many happy people in one place during our stay there. The athletes had a victory dance party on CMU’s football field. Everybody was dancing, laughing, smiling; just having the time of their lives. I felt so honored to have been a witness. I can’t wait for the next time. In the meantime, we are still celebrating Preston’s first experience and especially his victories!