Southsider Voice correspondent
Until they participate in Special Olympics, many athletes with intellectual disabilities have spent a lot of time on the bench watching their siblings play various organized games or a lot of time in front of the TV, watching competitions they would love to participate in.
With access to Special Olympics, nearly 11,000 Hoosier athletes with intellectual disabilities no longer have to warm the bench.
They have an opportunity to don a uniform, learn the rules and be part of a sports team for up to 25 different types of sports. Quite literally, ages of athletes range from elementary students to senior citizens.
Participating in Special Olympics might be the only means of exercise for some athletes. For others, it might be one of few avenues for socializing and making new friends. But don’t ever assume that these athletes are different from any other sports-loving competitors.
“They are like any other athletes; they want to win,” said Duchess Adjei, manager of marketing and public relations for Indiana’s Special Olympics program. “They want to win medals. They want to win recognition.”
Depending on the season for the competitive year-round sports schedule and the sports available in that county, athletes might choose from bowling, basketball or volleyball, softball, track and field, aquatics, corn hole and several other sports.
As the treasurer and the public relations contact for the South Marion County chapter for Special Olympics, Kathy West of the Southside was happy to get her daughter, Tonya, 25, involved in the organization.
Tonya, who was born with Down syndrome, has always been athletic and competitive, too. By participating in Special Olympics, both of those interests are met.
As a tight-knit group of families that often see the same athletes and the same parents on the benches to watch track and field or volleyball practices or competitions, close relationships are formed, West said.
Maybe because they have more of an opportunity to enter into long conversations, it seems that bowling season brings the time for parents to reach out to other parents for much needed advice.
“There is no way to prepare for this,” West said of the challenges and victories of day-to-day life with Tonya. “There is no training on how to raise a child with special needs.”
Editor’s note: Monetary support from corporations and civic organizations is crucial to this nonprofit organization. Special Olympics does not receive federal, state or United Way funding. To learn more about how your company or family can donate, visit soindiana.org.