I think one of the hardest things that we faced with our daughter, Bree, was finding opportunities that she could participate in. Before we knew of her Autism diagnosis, we tried different “Mom and Tot” music classes or sibling swim classes. Unfortunately, they all ended the same way, with an intense meltdown by Bree and me wearing the perpetual red face of embarrassment. Eventually, I gave up, the rude comments, rolling of eyes and unsolicited parenting advice wore me down. It was easier to just stop wasting money and trying to make Bree participate. As time went on, we learned it wasn’t separation anxiety, it was something much more. We hoped that with occupational and speech therapy, Bree would improve and maybe one day she could participate with her peers.
From kindergarten through eighth grade, Bree was mainstreamed with a one-on-one aide. By being mainstreamed, she was being exposed to a typical classroom with typical classmates. This had its pros and cons. In some ways Bree was challenged and learned what was expected of her outside a special education setting, but she also figured out early on that she was different and she knew she didn’t fit in or compete on all the same levels with her peers. Bree was exposed to all different sports and activities, because she had an older brother and sister. She wanted to do what her siblings did and she wanted to be with her peers. This desire pushed her to want to try new opportunities, but what we found was not everyone wanted to devote the time needed to work with Bree and very few people understood why she behaved the way she did.
When Bree was nine she wanted so badly to play basketball. Although we had a great organized basketball association in town, I didn’t feel they could handle her sensory needs. The thought of her freezing in the middle of a game when a whistle or buzzer blew, scared me. Would the coach, kids or parents understand why she may drop the ball and cover her ears? I envisioned people yelling at her and she not understanding what she did wrong. I was relieved when I discovered she could compete in Special Olympics and was so impressed to see how they judged their competitions on each person’s individual ability. Everyone we worked with who coached for our special recreation association and Special Olympics were so kind and understanding. Bree excelled in Special Olympics, joining basketball, volleyball, softball, powerlifting, rhythmic and artistic gymnastics. She continues to compete in Special Olympics and is a Special Olympics Global Messenger. She goes out and gives speeches and advocates for those with challenges.
Unfortunately, her high school did not offer Special Olympics sports teams as others in the area did. She longed to be a part of something at her school. When she was a sophomore in high school, she had hit a low point in her life. She was feeling very isolated, depressed and was done trying to make friends and fit in. She was blessed to have one good friend at school and this girl talked Bree into joining the Track team. I was pretty much against it from the start. Bree was slow, everything she did was slow, I feared she would fail and fall deeper into depression. Practices were every day and they were hard, I believed it would be too much for her to handle. Plus, by this point in her life I was pretty much done trusting people. Don’t get me wrong, we had been trusting people year after year as they laid out her strengths and weaknesses. We trusted her therapists and her special education team as they steered us down her educational path. Most of the time those we trusted truly earned our trust. Sadly, we trusted a few people who didn’t always have our daughter’s best interest in mind and repairing her spirit was often a difficult, if not impossible task to succeed at.
From the beginning Coach Anderson, the head coach of the Cary Grove High School Cross Country Track and Field teams assured me that Bree would be fine on his teams and he couldn’t have been more right. Of course, I didn’t believe him in the beginning, but week after week she improved. Not only did she improve in running, she was happy. She hadn’t been happy for months and even though she was exhausted and had less free time, we were seeing a new Bree. It turns out that running was helping to control her anxiety and OCD. She tells me now that when she runs, it is the only time she has no anxiety or OCD. Her mind is free and she in turn feels free of all the challenges she faces daily. It is liberating for her, plus she belongs somewhere. She is part of a team and she is participating and contributing to her team’s success.
Bree ran three seasons of Track and two of Cross Country under Coach Anderson. She now runs for her junior college and hopes to one day continue running for a four-year University. Coach Anderson and running have changed Bree’s life; we often say they saved her life. When I think back to all the years where I felt we had no opportunities, I am forever grateful for the ones that came knocking and that we allowed in. I am grateful that I listened to my daughter when she told me she didn’t want to quit and I am so grateful I trusted a coach who told me she would be fine on his team. Winston Churchill once said “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.” Our kids face difficulties every day, but that doesn’t mean they cannot succeed.
Recently, Coach Anderson was named one of the Inspiring Coaches of 2017 by Brooks Running Company. Here is a link to the Brooks video honoring Coach Anderson and sharing his story. I hope you will take time to watch and that it will inspire you to keep searching for opportunities for your child to succeed. http://www.brooksrunning.com/en_us/programs/inspiring-coaches
-Mary Ellen Bogucki
Mary Ellen Bogucki is the mother of Breanna (Bree.) Bree is a nineteen-year-old college student, runner, singer, special needs advocate, Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger. Bree has been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism, OCD, anxiety, situational depression and sensory processing disorder. Follow along as her mother describes where Bree began and how she arrived where she is today. Mary Ellen will explain what helped Bree improve, along with some mistakes they made on their journey. By telling their story, they hope others will find hope and comfort. Bree currently is attending Harper College in Palatine, Illinois pursuing an Associates Degree in Human Services. She is a member of their Cross Country and Track teams and the President of the Access and Disabilities Success Club. Harper College offers a Transition Autism Program (TAP) to help those with Autism transition from high school to college.