“(Being) a USA Games coach is something that I could have never imagined when I began in Special Olympics.
I was born with a rare birth defect called PKU, which means I was born without the enzyme needed to breakdown proteins. It was left untreated until I was 1 ½. As a result, I have an Intellectual Disability and my mother was told that I would never be able to walk or talk.
I got my first taste of Special Olympics at age 9, but continued health issues, family disruption and many moves, took me on a childhood journey that was very difficult.
Fast forward to age 20, when I landed back in Manitowoc and my stepdad came with me to a Special Olympics unified basketball practice, where people with and without disabilities play side-by-side. We joined Special Olympics together that night.
It’s hard to put into words what Special Olympics meant to me in those days, but the word “comfort” comes to mind. I found laughter and friendship and began to heal from the health issues and abuse that I had experienced throughout my childhood. Special Olympics embraced my whole family and gave us the support we needed. I discovered I was actually a very good athlete and I met some of my forever friends who I now consider my family.
I began to grow stronger and healthier both inside and out.
This newfound strength, gave me the confidence to explore athlete leadership. I attended the Special Olympics Global Messenger program, which is a public speaking class where you have to prepare and give a speech. Turns out, for a kid the doctors thought would never talk; I have a lot to say!
I continued to improve my sports skills. A major highlight was attending the 2003 World Games in Ireland and running the ½ marathon with athletes from all over the world. I felt free! I posted a time of 1 hr 45 min. to earn the silver medal. How about that for a kid the doctors thought would never be able to walk?
Each opportunity has led to the next.
In 2005, I was selected to travel to Panama to represent the United States at the Global Athlete Congress. There, I met my wife Suzie. She is the love of my life and we have been married for 13 years. She inspired me to be the independent man I am today. Because of her I got my driver’s license, I have a part time job at Festival Foods and we have traveled back to her native home of Australia 6 times.
We would have never had a chance to meet if it were not for Special Olympics and for that I am forever grateful.
I’m 44 years old now, and I still compete in Special Olympics Volleyball, Basketball and Flag Football. I used to play softball, but after taking the Special Olympics Athletes-As-Coaches program, I now coach softball. Because I took this course, I was eligible to apply to be a coach for the 2022 USA Games.
In all my life, I have never felt so respected for exactly who I am. A lifetime of Special Olympics opportunities has led me to this moment. I have the sports experience, coaches training and leadership skills to be successful.
In Special Olympics before each competition, the athletes recite the Athlete Oath.
Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
Step back with me and imagine a 9-year-old child hearing these words for the first time.
Next, imagine a young man, traveling internationally for the first time. Standing at the Opening Ceremonies in Ireland and hearing an entire stadium recite the oath in all the various languages from around the world.
Now, look into the future with me to see a 2022 USA Games coach, not reciting the oath himself, but hearing the voices of the athletes he has coached.
I feel I have been brave in the attempt all my life.
Special Olympics has opened the door to the whole world for me and I walked, no, I ran through it.”