Bringing Home the Gold

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.

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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!

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One Love

As a single parent, I struggle to find free time for myself. I don’t go out much because there’s a level of isolation and trust of who could care for my son because he, sometimes, have meltdowns. For the past few years, the ONLY break I get is when my mother opts to have Preston visit her during the summer in Arizona.

When Preston is with her, it affords me the opportunity to just be Keisha. Yes, I miss him (we talk and Skype frequently) but I enjoy my me time. The day before he was heading to Arizona, I was blessed with something that meant so much to me.

Those who know me are aware that I’m a super fan of two groups from Boston…New Edition and New Kids On The Block. Now, I’ve had great meetings and conversations with New Kids but it was my lifelong dream to meet New Edition.

I remember the hours of practice of learning the various dance routines to their songs but I believe my all-time favorite is BBD’s “Poison”. Preston laughs at me every time I do it at home.

Through me, Preston has become a New Edition fan. He loves many of their songs. Often, I’ve heard him singing and “discovering” different songs on YouTube. I’ve had to download New Edition/BBD songs to his phone.

I’ve chatted with various members of New Edition via social media. There is a personal connection with NE member, Ronnie DeVoe, because autism is a part of his family. He has used his voice and celebrity to increase autism awareness.

Recently, I saw a Facebook post about the DeVoe family granting some parents of children with autism a night out to enjoy themselves. It included 2 tickets to a New Edition concert. I submitted my contact information and to my surprise, I was selected by Mrs. Florence DeVoe (Ronnie’s mother) to go to the New Edition concert and have my picture taken with Ronnie DeVoe.

I was uber excited! I anticipated the phone call from Mrs. DeVoe. For days, I rehearsed the conversation in my head because I didn’t want to babble. I was nervous to speak to the mother of Ronnie DeVoe. The day she called me, I forgot everything I wanted to say. I was in disbelief that I was speaking to Mrs. DeVoe. She was so nice and sweet even though I still babbled.

On the day of the show, Mrs. DeVoe instructed me to inform her if I had any problems. Unfortunately, some problems did occur. The venue security gave me different information for the credentials that was given to me along with the tickets.  I was hesitant to call her but I did. She was extremely helpful. I was simply amazed of how kind she was when I talked to her. Again, I really didn’t want to call her. I felt I should be grateful enough for the concert tickets.

The concert was spectacular. I danced, I sang, and took lots of pictures. Every time, I see New Edition they get better and better. I’m fortunate to have been a witness of their evolution. In my opinion, they’re the ONLY group to be successful as a group, solo projects, and another group…they’re the ultimate supergroup!

In the end, we got backstage access but we weren’t allowed in the room with the group yet. We were told to wait. We patiently waited. Shortly after, we stood there as Johnny Gill and Ricky Bell briefly greeted us as they headed to their vehicles. Then, Michael Bivens and Ronnie walked out. I questioned if they were leaving and my moment of a lifetime. I couldn’t lose it so I walked over to Michael and Ronnie. Mike was so cool. He smiled and hugged me!

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I had to let Ronnie know that I was a guest of his mother’s. He quickly said “you’re Keisha?!” I was surprised he knew my name. I felt so special. The same way his mother, Mrs. DeVoe, made me feel. Quickly, I thought his parents did a wonderful job raising him. He hugged me and was so gracious. I told him how Preston made a video to show to him. I couldn’t find it fast enough so he told me to forward it over to his mother along with the picture we just had taken on my phone. He tried to get Mike in another picture but he had other fans talking to him.

The night didn’t go exactly how I pictured it but I still had a ball. The main thing I feel is that I’ve loved New Edition since the first time I heard “Candy Girl” in 1983. I’ve gone to several concerts in the course of my life. They never disappoint. I can get lost in their music because New Edition is a great portion of the soundtrack of my life. New Edition allows me to be just Keisha. I can be a “Candy Girl” 🙂

If only for that one day, I felt so much love and support from the DeVoe family. Never did I think that autism would tie our families together. I’m extremely proud of their decision to contribute to assisting families with autism. I applaud the DeVoe family for everything that they’re doing and will do in the future for the autism community. They are an exceptional family. I’m appreciative of their helping to increase autism awareness and acceptance. I believe they are a blessing in my life and will be to many others.

One Love