Class of 2016
(10/2015) This is a fictional short story about the challenges and triumphs of an individual with developmental disabilities and her involvement with Special Olympics Maryland. Special Olympics Maryland, in partnership with the Office of Social Justice at Mount St. Mary's University, will host the 27th annual Fall Sports Fest on the eastern campus of
the Mount on October 24. This event brings together hundreds of athletes throughout Maryland and Mount student-volunteers for a day of inclusion, competition, and fun.
People always say that it is hard to keep up with me. I have a busy schedule and am always doing something. I go from event to event and am always training in-between while also trying to keep up with my multiple jobs and spending time with my friends and family. I guess what people say is true—I am hard to keep up with! But that is because I just have
so many goals and things I am working to accomplish. How can I waste any time when I have big dreams that I need to work towards?
Around 20 years ago, I was born into a beautiful family. I was blessed because they loved me unconditionally from the very beginning. Mom said that her and my dad knew before I was born, because the doctor had told them, that it was likely that my chromosome 21 had been copied one too many times and that I would have the most common genetic condition
in the world, Down Syndrome. My parents were nervous, of course, because they did not know how this would affect their lives. It was going to be a big change for them but they believed in themselves, God, and most importantly, they believed in me.
Dad says that after I was done crying when I was born, I never stopped smiling. I am sure this is an exaggeration, but he always insists that I was the happiest then and I am the happiest now. Dad used to claim it was some sort of superpower I had, that I could always smile and make a situation seems less troubling. I honestly think that it is a sort
of superpower. Sometimes things are really difficult and if you are not smiling, then it only makes it more difficult.
A lot of times, people see me and think that Down Syndrome is the most difficult challenge I am going through. Many people see it as an obstacle I have to overcome or as some inherent setback. But I never see it that way, nor does anyone I know with Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome is simply just another characteristic of who I am. It is something that I
was born with, just like you were born with incredible math skills, or an awesome, secret talent. It is not a defining factor of who I am and it is not a limiting factor on what I can do or who I can become. It is simply another trait that makes me, me. And I think I am pretty cool.
Growing up, my parents showered me with love. I attended school and had a good group of friends. However, my friends did not always understand where I was coming from or how my characteristics made me act and learn a little bit differently. Sometimes people would push me away, not because they were mean or trying to hurt my feelings, but because they
simply did not understand. Others would embrace me and my capabilities. It is to them that I owe all that I have accomplished.
Mom and dad started enrolling me in events through Special Olympics Maryland when I entered middle school. At the time, I was a teenage girl, so long story short, I was moody and up to no good. Special Olympics gave me a chance to not only compete and be with other individuals who have developmental disabilities, but also to truly express myself and
put my strengths and talents to work.
I started off just playing tennis. I played doubles with another girl from my same middle school. This was a great system because it gave her and me both a chance to work together and to spend time with one another. We became good friends. I then decided to get involved in long distance running as well. I enjoyed the feeling of having to challenge
myself to push physical limits.
By the time I was in high school I was competing in multiple Special Olympics sports. I was still keeping up with tennis and long distance running, while also trying my luck at swimming and power lifting. It was always a busy season. I would spend hours each week practicing with other athletes, training with various coaches, and working on my form and
skills on my own time. When I was not busy training, I would be out helping with the training of other athletes and would cheer them on as they competed. When I met all of the amazing athletes and shared in their journeys and victories, it only encouraged me to do more and to become better.
One of my favorite events has always been competing at the Fall Sports Fest at Mount St. Mary's University, which takes place every year in October. This event brings together so many athletes from the various counties of Maryland and it is something we all train very hard for. We travel with our teams, already in our uniforms and ready to compete.
Some of us carry snacks and change of clothes, or other uniforms for different events. All of us carry positive energy and a desire to achieve.
We arrive on campus and file into the same arena where the Mount St. Mary’s basketball team hosts their home games. Representatives holding our banners process into the arena to begin the opening ceremonies. The crowd listens as the President of the university, and then a Special Olympics Maryland manager, and an athlete say a few opening words. Then,
all of the events begin!
This year, the events will all take place on October 24. There will be power lifting, long-distance running, tennis, cycling, and flag football. In previous years I have competed in long-distance running and in tennis. I plan on competing in both, again, this year. I really enjoy playing tennis because it is something that I have done for a long time,
but long-distance running is where I think I shine my brightest.
There are multiple events through long-distance running. I will be running in the 5k, which is the second farthest distance offered. I really enjoy this because the course takes the runners through a trail and around the beautiful areas of the eastern campus. It is always so pretty because it is at a time when the leaves are changing colors and
everything is a perfect shade of yellow or orange. Along the course there are various student volunteers who help to keep track of our times and to cheer us along. This always encourages me to keep going when I get tired or begin to lose my breath.
After I finish running I will have to eat a quick lunch before heading over to compete in tennis. It is a busy day for me and for most of the athletes. If and when I have extra time, I enjoy watching my friends and fellow athletes compete in their events. I am always impressed by their skills and dedication.
Once all the events are over, the athletes and our families head over the watch the award ceremony. We are all lined up depending on the events we competed in and our time slots. Then we gather on the stage and are awarded with a shiny gold, silver, or bronze medal or ribbon. Everyone always claps for us and it is a time when I always feel a lot of
pride about both my team’s and my own personal accomplishments.
Special Olympics has been critical in shaping my life and my development. Because of this organization, I have been able to achieve more than I ever knew I was capable of. I have been able to set goals that I will continue to try achieve. Special Olympics has taught me a lot about myself and one of the things I have learned is that I can be
unstoppable, in sports and in life.
I may not always be successful the first time or always accomplish everything I set out to, but I always try and aim for gold and that is what makes the difference. Special Olympics has taught me to live my life through its motto, "I can try to win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," a motto we can each take into account in our own
lives, regardless of our characteristics and capabilities.
Read other articles by Lydia Olsen