I spent 14 years of my life playing T-ball and girls fast pitch softball. Before that, I was a bat girl for the fast pitch teams that my dad used to coach. Every late spring and early summer, my family and I lived and breathed softball. So, as an adult, when I had the opportunity to be assistant coach for girls fast pitch team 12 & under, I jumped at the chance and thought I would love the opportunity to pass on my love of softball to a new generation. The world of competitive sports was very different from an adult’s vantage point. The girls were great, but the ugliness of competitive sports at such a vital young learning age, turned me off of organized sports.
Years later, my son was born. What was supposed to be a wondrous moment, turned into that of fear, confusion, sadness and dread upon learning that he was born with Down syndrome. It took a lot of time to know that our family outlook was a positive one (that however, is another story). This story is realizing that my son could partake in an organization called Special Olympics! What a glorious moment for me to know that he would be able to participate with a group that would support his every accomplishment, attempt and failure. He would be surrounded by individuals who see an opportunity to compete, not to berate the competition, but uplift those whom would challenge themselves. I understood that the parent base (many of whom had a rough bout dealing with diagnosises, hospital stays, the outside world’s perception of their child) would protect my son as a pride of lions protect their own. They would be there to support all individuals involved in the activity, not slinging mud at umpires, coaches, other parents or young competitors. Some parents may see Special Olympics as another reminder of their child’s disability, but after my short time as assistant coach, I relished the thought of being involved with Special Olympics. And then I learned a hard lesson: My son would have to be eight years old in order to compete.
Eight years is a long time for someone who understood the value of organized activities at a young age: strength, coordination, patience, teamwork, self confidence, persistence – all those skills that make us stronger individuals. Boy, was I relieved to learn from our First Step Therapists about a new Special Olympics program called YAP, Young Athletes Program, for children with disabilities age three to eight! Let the games begin!
Liam has been enjoying the Young Athletes Program for almost three years now. He has grown cognitively, physical, and socially. He also participated in the Northwest Area Little Feet Meet last spring, where he earned a certificate of achievement.