At the end of last week, we received a call asking if we would be interested in speaking at a meeting at the Special Olympics International Headquarters in Washington D.C. about Colin's involvement in the Young Athlete Program. The meeting would involve numerous members of the Board of Directors, including Tim Shriver and Kim Samuel, former president of the Special Olympics of NJ Marc Edenzon, other Special Olympics staff members, and another family who would be speaking as well. We were so honored to be asked to share our story about Colin's involvement in the SONJ Young Athlete Program which allowed him to develop his skills and then subsequently participate in the community soccer program as well as Karate. We jumped at the chance and drove down on Sunday night, stopping once to wake Colin up, for us to get some dinner, and Colin a treat.
We explained to Colin that we would be staying in a hotel and then attending a meeting where he would talk about the Special Olympics and see his old friend Mr. Marc. He was excited to have a packed suitcase and an adventure with both Mommy and Daddy.
It was a long ride down but there was so much excitement surrounding the trip, especially because we would all have the opportunity to speak to some very influential people in the Special Olympics unified sports movement. This movement is all about having sport bring together people of all ability levels in a fun way to break down barriers and stereotypes for those with disabilities.
We arrived at the hotel pretty late, but Colin was so excited and brought his suitcase all the way from the garage up to our room by himself (he was very adamant about doing this too). The suitcase became the thing Colin was obsessed with during the entire trip. When we left for the meeting the next day, we would walk a ways and then he'd stop and say "Wait! My suitcase! Let's get it from the hotel!". We'd have to assure him that his suitcase was safe. At one point during the meeting when the other family was talking, Colin leaned over to me and whispered "Mom! My suitcase! We need to get it from the hotel!". I once again assured him that it was safe.
The next morning, we met Marc across the street for breakfast so we could be briefed a bit on the goal of the meeting and then walked around the corner to the Special Olympics International Headquarters with our buddy Logan and his mom Julie.
After arriving, we had the opportunity to tour one floor of the offices and meet some of the staff as we awaited the start of the meeting.
The focus of the meeting was on Kim Samuel and her significant contributions to the Special Olympics organization, particularly to their work in the unified and young athlete programs. These contributions have allowed the movement to work with and train many families in countries throughout the world to combat the stigma and isolation associated with people with disabilities. This movement is working to make these areas more unified. During the meeting, Chris and I spoke about our journey since Colin was born through not knowing about his diagnosis, our involvement in the Polar Bear Plunge, and then Colin's participation in the Young Athlete program. We described how this program allowed Colin to build upon skills starting at the age of 2 which ultimately allowed him to be able to participate in the community sports programs that he is now participating in. We talked about how we feel about inclusion and they asked questions about our current battles educationally in including him. They found this particularly baffling considering the work and progress the movement has made across the world, particularly in African villages. Yet here we are in NJ facing significant struggles. We were so proud of Colin because he also talked about the sports he really enjoys. He shook everyone's hands on the way in all the way around the table and was so well behaved during the meeting. He sat with us at the table, listened intently and answered questions when asked. He did awesome! Julie and Logan also spoke about their journey during the meeting as well.
It truly was an honor to play a part in such a global initiative and we must give Kim Samuel a big heartfelt thank you for HER role in this movement. It truly was an amazing experience.
We are SO PROUD of this little man and the many successes he has already had in his short life. It's amazing that Colin can sit in a board room, extremely well behaved, speak to many influential adults in a large room yet "he can't be educated in a general education classroom". I must be missing something...
Due to limited time after the meeting was over, we went back to the room to get changed (and assure Colin his suitcase was still there), took a quick walk to the closest landmark which was the White House, snapped a few pictures (we couldn't get very close), and then grabbed lunch with Logan and Julie before getting back on the road to NJ.
Whatever it is that Colin chooses to do with his life, Chris and I will fully support him but we want him to know that anything is possible. We work so hard to make sure that Colin always knows that and will continue to do so no matter how many roadblocks we face. We are so proud of the Special Olympics for their efforts for all of those with disabilities in working to change attitudes. This was an amazing opportunity for all of us and we are so thankful!