By Cate Hunter
Special Olympics to me means a community, support system, and development path for all individuals, regardless of ability.
From an early age my twin sister Georgia has been able to compete with Special Olympics. Our older sister and I were both very active in sports, and though we tried to have Georgia on our teams, it was hard for her to feel competitive and really connect with other players. Once she got involved with Special Olympics, and swimming in particular, you could immediately see her self-confidence grow. Not only was she earning gold medals, and ribbons, but she was able to thrive in a sport that “ran in the family” and she is so proud to do it. Every single competition, or meet, or game, you can see that other athletes, and their families, feel the same way. Our family can take great comfort in knowing that the Special Olympics community is there for Georgia, as much as she is there for them. Additionally, all of the friends that she has made over the years across different “areas” means that she has a support system that will cheer her on at events, and will be friendly faces when she travels with just her team to events. The support system and community have enabled her to become an independent participant in her own life, and for that I am forever grateful.
As far as development opportunities, I am very fortunate to participate on the Young Professionals Board of Chicago, along with a couple hundred other YPs. This opportunity has helped to develop my professional network, and engage with other like-minded people who are passionate about helping others. As we get older it is harder to meet people outside of your existing network of friends, and the YPB enables new connections, and greater exposure to the Special Olympics organization and its staff. Additionally, Special Olympics has a leadership development program for select athletes. This Global Messenger program helps to grow networking skills and enables athletes to be a part of the great fundraising effort that is undertaken each year. Again, this program has enabled Georgia to feel comfortable speaking to crowds of over 10,000 and make connections at universities speaking to students. She is a respected member of the group, and seeing her walk into a networking room with confidence is something that I never knew if she’d be able to do and, thanks to Special Olympics, it is now second nature to her.
In short, the independent life of my sister, the community for my parents, the development opportunities for me and my peers, is unrivaled, and would not be possible without Special Olympics. To me, it means my sister and those around her living a fulfilled, engaged, and happy life.