They are Not Just Athletes – They are “Life Coaches”
By Dave Breen, President & CEO
In a recent USA Today article, Boston doctor Brian Skotko used the phrase “life coach for all of us” in describing his sister with Down syndrome. Those of us fortunate enough to be involved with Special Olympics have already learned many lessons from our “life coaches.”
For many individuals in our program – from individuals with Down Syndrome, those on the Autism Spectrum or those with a variety of other issues that provide them the opportunity to participate in Special Olympics – they are often seen only for their disability. But it is their abilities that are truly incredible!
That is just one of the lessons we have learned from the athletes who overcome many obstacles to train and compete in 19 sports. The abilities of individuals who bench press 330 pounds or run 100 meters in 13 seconds are just as inspiring as those by individuals who lift only the bar or run 100 meters in 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Perhaps it is their outlook on life that is most amazing. Our “life coaches” are totally honest, loyal and dependable and experience a true joy for life – even when life began with odds stacked against them with such things as respiratory problems, heart defects to endless therapy for speech and language. A perfect example is Vincent from Southwestern Illinois who has many challenges, not the least of which is Cerebral Palsy. Vincent apologized for taking so long to get a sentence out during training for public speaking. I would wait all day for the sentence to be around a person with that much courage and bravery.
People with intellectual disabilities enjoy life in so many interesting and inspiring ways that were once thought impossible. We have individuals with Down syndrome climbing to the base camp of Mt. Everest, graduating from college and owning their own restaurants.
I like to think that Special Olympics has had an important role in preparing them for these achievements. Special Olympics allows individuals to advocate for themselves through sport, teaches life skills, vocational skills, disappointment and perseverance. All are skills necessary to be a good “life coach.”
In Special Olympics there are so many different ways to get involved and more than 21,500 “life coaches” to learn from in each and every day. I am proud to announce that we have our own “life coach,” Sandra, working at the state headquarters in Normal. I don’t know what took us so long! We know that 20 percent of individuals with intellectual disabilities are employed, while 52 percent of the athletes in Special Olympics are employed. I believe that gives a lot of credibility to the phrase “Training for Life.”
There are so many ways to help move our organization forward and along the way learn so much more from Special Olympics athletes than they learn from us. Thank you to all the “life coaches” and their supportive families, coaches and agencies. We are so much better for having you transform our lives!