"For if you seek joy, come see the athletes of Special Olympics! If you seek peace and understanding, come see the athletes of Special Olympics! If you seek courage or strength or skill, come see the athletes of Special Olympics" - Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Colin first started participating in the Special Olympics of New Jersey Young Athlete program when he was just over 2.5 years old. At that time, he was walking with assistance but could not successfully walk independently. In fact, he was still having some difficulties walking with help and if he became too tired, he would simply sit down and resort to crawling. We had already started to become involved and meet some of the staff that worked at the facility because of CAT Crew's fundraising efforts for the annual polar bear plunge but we were excited to now have Colin participating as an athlete.
That fall, Colin participated in his first Fall Festival and it was where we met Coach Greg, a physical therapist that works with the Special Olympics, for the first time.
From that point forward, Colin had officially become a "Young Athlete" and began participating in their weekly sessions at the Special Olympics headquarters. The Young Athlete program is designed for children ages 2.5 to 7 years old and the goal is to build the fundamental skills needed to later participate in sports. For him, the program has been a perfect fit because it has allowed him the freedom to play at his pace and with independence, but practice with the routines and structures of sport activities. Coach Greg is there to assist in the development of these skills along with countless volunteers who help the athletes to play and participate. Coach Greg is both patient and fun but also maintains a good structure with the kids.
The big event every year is the Summer games which is held every June and is a culmination of many sporting events as well as the young athlete future stars race. That first summer, Colin was a little rusty to get started but then ran with assistance to the finish line.
The young athletes are made to feel like little stars at the completion of their race with a medal from a law enforcement official and lots of hugs and high fives too. We were so proud that first year to see how far Colin had come from the little boy who started out not quite walking and then 6 months later, running in a race on the track.
This past summer, we had some difficulties in keeping Colin involved for the full time the young athlete activities were taking place before the future stars race (he wanted to be running and around and exploring the grounds with all of the activities taking place). However, there were a lot of great volunteers who helped to keep the kids having fun and involved.
He absolutely LOVED the future stars race this year and was such a big boy following directions waiting for his race to start. Not to mention, the same little boy who started the Special Olympics NOT walking was running in the race as fast as he could.
He was SO PROUD to show off his medal for what he had accomplished all by himself.
These days, we try to make it to the Young Athlete program as often as possible because it is beneficial to BOTH Colin and Kailey now. We choose to drive a little further to the NJ headquarters instead of participating in a local YAP because we like the people that run and work these weekly sessions (and enjoy being at the facility too!).
Colin's stamina is still not quite as long as we'd LIKE it to be, but he runs around from station to station often trying things for 30 seconds or less before moving on to the next activity.
We love to see familiar faces and friends and have lots of fun too.
If you are a New Jersey resident, check out the Special Olympics of New Jersey website for more information on what the Special Olympics is all about and what it might be able to provide for your athlete. They are always looking for volunteers to assist in many different activities and events so if you are looking for a rewarding experience, click on the volunteer tab at the top of their page for more information.
For more information or to register for the Young Athlete program, click on this link for registration information.
For our family, the Special Olympics is a great way to help build Colin's confidence in participating in sport activities and to prepare him for his future in sport activities. We are incredibly grateful for all that it has to provided to us in just 2 years.
...and in honor of Down Syndrome awareness month...