Kim Raatz has been a Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete since 1994 and she competes as a member of the North Suburban agency. She will be representing Wisconsin in swimming at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle this summer. Her mother, Sue, has written about Kim’s life as an athlete and what Special Olympics has meant to Kim and their family. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
By Sue Raatz
My daughter Kim is a 34-year-old woman born with Cerebral palsy. She has cognitive, learning and speech disabilities but has a fighting spirit to handle them all. She has accepted her disabilities and by doing so lives her life with determination, joy and success.
When it became apparent Kim’s learning disabilities were beyond the abilities of the teachers in her school, a decision was made to move to a new home in a school system better suited for her needs.
In the backyard of the new home was a swimming pool. Kim took to the water immediately, fearless and ever exploring the different strokes and perfecting her swimming technique as she went along. She even worked on the most difficult stroke, the butterfly, which she swims today.
“I’m not sure where Kim would be had she not joined Special Olympics. The friendships, the competitive events, learning social skills for everyday life and knowing there was a place to go where it really doesn’t matter that you have disabilities.”
After settling into the new home we called the local recreation department to inquire about Kim joining Special Olympics. The coach invited her to try gymnastics and later in the year, swimming. Kim did a fine job as a gymnast but was eager to begin her journey as a swimmer in the Special Olympics program.
Kim participated in the regional and state competitions for many years receiving ribbons and medals along the way. She made a lot of friends, some of which are still in her life today. She was swimming the different strokes and perfected the race techniques, even offering help to her teammates should they ask. Kim was having the best time and felt a great sense of pride in the accomplishments she made as a Special Olympics swimmer.
As middle school was coming to an end Kim started to ask, “do you think I could swim with the high school swim team?” What is the likelihood a Special Olympics swimmer would be allowed to swim on the high school team? What would her teammates think if she joined? These are just a few of the questions which were presented during that time.
A friend who happened to be a swimmer on the high school team said she would ask the coach. A few tense days later we received a call from the coach. She said Kim would not receive any special treatment. She would have to come to the practices and do her best and work hard. We said she would see Kim at the first practice.
Soon after the swim season started the coach called to say Kim had made the team. This phone call was the beginning of a journey that would take Kim to a time in her life she could only have dreamed of: a Special Olympics swimmer is with her peers and they’ve accepted her for her abilities, not her disabilities.
Kim swam with the team for four years. After her first year she was presented the Sunshine Award. This honor was voted on by her peers for her hard work and commitment to the team. She was presented her letters and numerals to be placed on her letter jacket before graduation.
“That simple act of kindness was a result of the many years competing in Special Olympics, where acknowledging teammates and opponents is a part of what makes it so special.”
Her dad, who was also a high school athlete, was very proud of his daughter and her accomplishments. Throughout those four years Kim never forgot where her journey had started. She knew she was a Special Olympics swimmer who just happened to be swimming for her high school swim team.
Kim has always been very proud of her accomplishments in the various sports she participated in as a Special Olympics athlete. In 1999 Kim was even selected to participate in the World Games for Special Olympics in Raleigh, North Carolina in softball. But swimming has always been her true passion.
There were a couple of special moments while Kim was on the high school team. During a meet Kim had left the starting block but not without hurting her foot. She was swimming but the coach was concerned she would stand up, immediately disqualifying her from the event. “Go Kim, Go!” the fans of both teams cheered. She didn’t win the race but she didn’t give up.
At another meet Kim was swimming in a lane next to a swimmer who had Down syndrome. When the race ended Kim quickly went over to shake her hand and congratulate her on a good job. That simple act of kindness was a result of the many years competing in Special Olympics, where acknowledging teammates and opponents is a part of what makes it so special.
Kim’s dad passed away in 2004 from a brain aneurysm. Kim loved her dad a lot. From the train shows he hoped she would enjoy, to the sporting events, to the trips to Florida and the many times he cheered for her during swim meets at high school and Special Olympics. But the best part of the Special Olympics competition was when he walked to the area where the awards were given out and he was able to see her and give her a high five. “Good job Kimmy, good job!”
“All her years of preparation and competition have paved the way for her to see her dreams become a reality in Seattle, Washington in July 2018 at the USA Games.”
Kim has never dwelled on the fact she has difficulties during everyday living. She cannot read or write and her speech at times makes her difficult to understand. But her willingness to see the situation as an opportunity rather than a disruption makes her a fighter. Kim was honored for 15 years of employment with Pic ‘n Save recently. Her coworkers throughout the years have enjoyed hearing of her accomplishments in Special Olympics, often wearing her medals at work after a big sporting event.
I’m not sure where Kim would be had she not joined Special Olympics. The friendships, the competitive events, learning social skills for everyday life and knowing there was a place to go where it really doesn’t matter that you have disabilities. The support from the coaches who volunteer their time to encourage the athletes to reach for the sky, doing their best and repeating the Special Olympics Oath along the way. “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Kim’s selection to be a member of Team Wisconsin’s swim team for the 2018 USA Games completes her circle of hopes and dreams. It had always been her desire to compete as a swimmer at a special event. While in high school she swam at the conference meet scoring a point for the team. A fellow swimmer was so excited for her accomplishment. All her years of preparation and competition have paved the way for her to see her dreams become a reality in Seattle, Washington in July 2018 at the USA Games. She will do her very best for Team Wisconsin, meet new friends and coaches, experience all the events of the Games and return home so very proud to be a Special Olympics athlete from Wisconsin.