By Mary Ellen Bogucki
A few months ago, I wrote about the “Inclusion Revolution” and the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebration. While we were at the 50th celebration, my daughter Bree had the great honor of meeting Cándida Montilla de Medina, the First Lady of the Dominican Republic. We also had the privilege of hearing the First Lady, who is a psychologist, speak and describe all of the positive work she is doing in her country. The First Lady and her office have opened many care centers like the Center for Integral Attention for Disability (CAID). These are the first public centers dedicated to the evaluation, diagnosis and rehabilitation of children from zero to 10 years with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), infantile cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome. These centers were developed to improve the quality of life for the individuals and their families. Bree and I admire the First Lady and the work she is doing in her country. A few weeks after the 50th Anniversary, Bree was invited by the First Lady to come to the Dominican Republic. The invitation was to attend the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics World Tennis Invitational. The event was held November 9 – 17, 2018 and as was stated on the Special Olympics World Tennis Invitational website, the events would demonstrate to the world the capabilities that people with intellectual disabilities have when given the opportunity and value of a truly inclusive society.
It was an incredible experience to travel with my daughter during her first trip out of the United States. A trip where she not only stepped foot in another country, but she met so many amazing Special Olympics athletes from around the world. In addition to meeting so many great athletes, Bree was surrounded by people who believe in the mission for inclusion, acceptance and in the abilities of all. It was wonderful to attend a Special Olympics event in such a beautiful country, one that is so welcoming and open to change. I always say you cannot attend a Special Olympics event without feeling happy. No matter what city, state or country we have attended a Special Olympics event, it is the same repeated feeling of being welcomed and accepted. We always feel as though we are among friends and at home. I always leave with so much hope for my daughter’s future and that of all the athletes. The beautiful thing about the #InclusionRevolution is it is a movement, a movement toward change.
While we were in Santo Domingo we heard so many inspiring speeches and saw all the potential that Special Olympics athletes possess. We recognize that the world needs to change; it needs to take the example from the Special Olympics athletes and leaders. If you visit a Special Olympics event, you will find some of the most talented athletes who will welcome you with a smile and probably offer you a hug! You will watch them support each other and you will be amazed at their abilities. Society needs to stand up for inclusion because as Bree would tell you, we are all human and we all matter.
After taking Bree back to Tennessee for school, I boarded a plane home to Chicago. To my surprise, on my flight was Bree’s Tennessee Wesleyan cross country/track coaches and a few of her teammates. They were headed to the cross country nationals which Bree narrowly missed qualifying for. I had the opportunity to speak with Coach Sam Roberts and Coach Michael Basuini and they told me of how when they recruited Bree to run for TWU, they chose her because she was a good runner, a good student and a good person. That is what they look for in a recruit. They had no idea of the magnitude of their actions until ESPN arrived on campus to film Bree’s story. ESPN and Special Olympics are covering Bree’s story because they feel Bree is a game changer for the inclusion revolution. You see, there are very few Special Olympics athletes who receive college scholarships and Bree may be the first or one of the first females to receive one. As the coaches talked, I thought back to why we chose TWU for Bree. We chose TWU and this running program because they saw Bree’s abilities and never thought twice about her disability. These coaches gave her the chance, the opportunity to be included in a wonderful university and team. They are already standing up for inclusion and making a difference in not only Bree’s life, but in the life of everyone who only wants to be seen for their ABILITIES and not their disability. As her coaches reminded me, they see Bree the person and her capabilities. I see them as game changers too and all I can hope is that others will follow their example and join us in the inclusion revolution. I believe these coaches and college can inspire change, because I have seen the growth and success my daughter has made when given the opportunity and value of a truly inclusive society.
Photo Left to Right – Tim Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics International, Bree Bogucki, Special Olympics Athlete and Global Messenger, Candida Montilla de Medina, First Lady of the Dominican Republic
Read Part Two on Thursday, December 13th
Mary Ellen Bogucki is the mother of Breanna (Bree.) Bree is a twenty-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 is now 21 and attending Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, Tennessee. She is pursuing a Bachelors Degree in Social Work and hopes to advocate for and help others who face challenges in life.