Eddie is a very busy sixteen year old living a productive life filled with family, education, faith, community, and athletics.
He attends Oak Park and River Forest High School where he learns in an inclusive, general education environment with support from resource and co-teachers. He is an Usher at Sunday mass, provides care and feeding of pets in the neighborhood, and helps manage the varsity soccer team. Best Buddies and Opportunity Knocks are among his social outlets and he is looking forward to his second summer at Camp PALS, a sleep away camp for young adults with Down syndrome. Eddie is a natural athlete with a strong will to succeed and a passion to participate in sport in any form.
We were introduced to Special Olympics Illinois in 2008 by a fellow parishioner who asked whether our five year old would be interested in a Young Athlete Program. The next week our new friend stopped by the house with a bag full of athletic gear and instructions for physical activities. We created obstacle courses and games and watched as our intent for purposeful development of fundamental motor skills and eye-hand coordination transformed into inclusive play and athletic competition among neighbors and classmates. At the age of nine, Eddie started training with West Suburban Special Recreation Association (WSSRA) to participate in his first Special Olympics track and field competition. Classmates, teachers, and extended family came to watch, Eddie thrived on the attention and we witnessed the unleashing of his competitive spirit. It was clear that this was going to be his thing…and his extended family and friends came along for the ride.
Among the driving forces for Eddie’s development in middle school was a dynamic special education teacher who championed inclusion and nurtured Eddie’s evolving self-awareness. She guided him into the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program where he became a member of the Youth Activation Committee made up of young people from around the state committed to activating students with the tools and skills to build cultures of inclusiveness. His athletic achievement expanded from regional to the Special Olympics Summer Games and a Unified Soccer team that competed in Special Olympics tournaments at Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park.
Now in his sophomore year of high school, Eddie’s passion for athletic competition is fulfilled by Unified Soccer (State Champions), Basketball (State Qualified), and Swimming (State Qualified). Sidelined by the global response to COVID-19, his plans to compete in Special Olympics Track & Field, Soccer, and Golf have given way to long walks, bike rides, and shooting baskets in the back yard…and plenty of time to reflect on the person he has become.
Eddie is aware that he has a disability, accepts the inherent challenges, and genuinely likes who he is. As a Youth Activation representative he advocated to “Spread the Word to End the Word” in classrooms and at events. He appeared on Fox Morning News to talk about celebrating our differences and helped create the tag line “Respect is My Superpower”.
Physical fitness and healthy choices are part of Eddie’s mindset and daily routine. The quality of the Special Olympics experience has instilled in him a life-long interest in healthy behavior that has made him more resilient and will improve the quality of his adult life.
The structure of Special Olympics competition has allowed Eddie to find his level of excellence, celebrate his abilities and convey a quiet confidence in every aspect of his life. He believes that with the right attitude and effort good things are possible.
Eddie is an extraordinary young man and a positive influence in the collaboration that forms the fabric of his community….’it takes a village’. We would be remiss not to express our deep gratitude to members of the Oak Park School and Park Districts, Special Recreation Associations, his incredible classmates and their parents…and of course our fellow parishioner, now good friend, who introduced us to Special Olympics Illinois.