Finding Passion by Chance

Jane Monaghan is a coach, volunteer and public relations intern for SOMO.

My journey with Special Olympics started as an assignment. I was the new service chair for Jefferson City High School’s Student Council, and I needed something for us to volunteer for. I ended up choosing the convenient date that the Special Olympics State Summer Games in Columbia fell on. As cheesy as it sounds, little did I know this would spark a passion for the athletes of Special Olympics that would continue on the rest of my life.

For the past two years, I have been coaching several Special Olympics teams in basketball, bocce, track and field, volleyball and, my favorite, the Jefferson City Thunder softball team. When I started coaching softball, I fell in love with the enthusiasm every single person on the field had; it was contagious. Our regulation team featured athletes of all playing levels, and whether someone would hit the ball out of the park or barely make it to the pitcher, the cheers were same.

This is what I love. This enthusiasm for teamwork and the game cannot be found anywhere else. This passion for the game and camaraderie of the athletes is what you think about when you hear Special Olympics, something you don’t see on a high school baseball field. After only one practice, I knew that I had stumbled onto something great; I could feel that this was going to be a life-changing adventure.

The players know more about sportsmanship and personal achievement than anyone else I have ever met. When watching Major League Baseball, a strikeout typically leads to a player tantrum: explosives and bats flying. In Special Olympics, a strikeout typically leads to the player giving me a hug because they’re proud of the way they swung the bat. When, instead of gold, a player receives bronze and jumps up and down in excitement, you can’t help but get the chills (and in my case, always a few teardrops in my eyes.)

My favorite memories from Special Olympics came from the 2011 softball season. After district competition in Higginsville, Mo., was rained out, Thunder was ready to play at districts. After losing our first game, everyone was excited to play the second. Our spirits were high, but only halfway through the first inning, thunder hammered the sky and it began to pour. The game was called after only one half of the first inning, but I’ve never seen anyone on that team play better than they did in the rain. Not one complaint was heard about the mud on our wet, new uniforms. We counted that game as a win. The only important part to the rest of the team, though, was that they played like stars, and even the sky was on our side. The dugout rang with cheers of, “Who are we? Thunder!”

This attitude and optimism has followed me on and off the field. I have learned so much about celebrating life’s simple pleasures. We are blessed with so much every day; it’s easy to let the small things slip through the cracks. The athletes I am around every week never let one of these moments sneak by, something we should all learn from and strive to imitate in our own lives.

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