It’s common to read about love stories and to see them portrayed on the big screen. However, Special Olympics Missouri coach Dawn Jones, has had the privilege of witnessing two love stories develop on and off the playing field.
Jones has previously coached athletes Tony Mitchell, Jennifer Neihouse, Aaron Raines and Kelly Rebori. She coached Mitchell, Neihouse, Raines and Rebori for more than four years.
Currently, Mitchell and Neihouse are an item as are Raines and Rebori.
Jennifer’s mother Dianna said, “Jennifer came home from kindergarten with a big crush on Tony and has always called him her boyfriend.”
Kelly’s mother Bridget said, “Kelly and Aaron first met each other thru the Down syndrome infant action meetings when Kelly was 2/12 & Aaron was a baby. Then we lost contact until they meet up in school. However, they really got to know each other in Junior High thru Special Olympics and then Kelly and Aaron both went to the same High School and became close buddies.”
It’s evident just how much the couples care for one another by the way they talk about each other.
Jennifer said, “Tony is sweet and kind and sometimes romantic.”
Kelly is equally appreciate of Aaron. “I really like Aaron because he is so nice and is helping me if needed and cheers for me.”
But besides their current budding relationships, the four of them are really good friends as well.
“It has been great that they all get along so well,” Jones said.
Like many couples that are friends with one another, the girls enjoy spending time with one another even when their boyfriends aren’t around. Neihouse and Rebori have been friends since birth; therefore, it’s no surprise that they have as much fun separate from their boyfriends as they do just the two of them.
The couples do enjoy bowling, dances, movies, dinner and double dating with friends.
When asked, Dianna said, “They like just hanging out together. It doesn’t have to be typical dating (because) they are happy when they see each other at practice once or twice a week.”
Through it all, Jones said the athletes’ relationships have never been distracting. It was at different competitions that Jones recalls witnessing how “they really push each other to be better.”
“Tony and Jennifer both enjoy sports so much and are very competitive with each other,” Jones said. “There is no sitting back and cheering for Tony; Jennifer would rather be in there trying to beat him and this is fun for both of them. They will be tougher on each other than anyone else.”
Meanwhile, Raines and Rebori’s relationship could be described as less competitive. “Kelly is more of a doting girlfriend who likes to watch and cheer for Aaron and tell people that Aaron is her boyfriend,” Jones said. “Aaron likes to have Kelly in his cheering section whenever possible.”
A good example that also personifies Raines and Rebori’s relationship is how much Rebori enjoys “telling people about her strong boyfriend – (that) he competes in powerlifting,” Jones said.
Both couples are there for each other on and off the playing field.
“They are both very sweet and both really enjoy each other’s company,” Jones said.
“Both couples are fun and go with the flow making it all work with tons of parental involvement and support.”
As a parent, Dianna is thankful that her daughter and Mitchell have each other.
“We understand it is a relationship that not every person with special needs gets to experience. Jennifer has someone that puts a big smile on her face when he walks in the room, what parent doesn’t want that?”
Bridget is also thankful for the relationship that her daughter and Raines have.
“Kelly enjoys spending time with Aaron and it’s nice for her to have someone special to spend time with – especially when they can incorporate that into their activities and hanging with all their friends. As it is with everyone, it’s nice to have a special friend that you can hang out with and know they will be there for you.”
In the end, the athletes’ relationships can be characterized by any other love story that one may read about or watch on the big screen. Love is universal and Special Olympics has been a platform for two (and many more) love stories and friendships to continue to grow over time.