By Mary Ellen Bogucki
Recently, my daughter Bree competed in the Special Olympics Illinois Summer State Games. Bree has been a Special Olympics athlete for 12 years. This year’s Summer Games were bittersweet for us, because Bree will be attending college in another state in the fall and will be unable to complete in Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games for a few years. The decision to have her go to Tennessee Wesleyan University was not an easy one, but it was what Bree, her Dad and I worked toward for years. Our biggest goal was to make Bree independent. It is still a work in progress, but one that seems more achievable than ever.
Diagnosed with Autism, for many years Bree didn’t participate in activities and she didn’t have any friends. She often felt like she didn’t fit in anywhere. When Bree was nine, we found out she could participate in Special Olympics and she has been competing ever since. We found a second home in our special recreation association (NISRA) and at Special Olympics Illinois. Bree finally felt like she fit in and was included. She has competed in Rhythmic Gymnastics, Artistic Gymnastics, Volleyball, Basketball, Softball and Powerlifting. She has learned valuable skills as a Special Olympics Global Messenger. Her time as a Special Olympics athlete and Global Messenger has prepared her for a future, something we often wondered if she would even have.
This year Special Olympics is celebrating their 50th Anniversary and want to continue to change the way the world sees those with disabilities. Special Olympics began in 1968 and gave those with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to participate in sports. Back in 1968 many with intellectual disabilities were kept at home or in institutions. Many were not allowed to live up to their full potential. They were often kept from receiving an education or even the most up to date medical treatment. Luckily, for so many there were those who knew better and saw all the injustice that was occurring in the world. These people vowed to make a difference. Thankfully, Special Olympics began and now plan to encourage the “Inclusion Revolution!” The “Inclusion Revolution” is a world where those with disabilities will be included and accepted.
My daughter has fought to be accepted like so many others just like her. She has found discrimination and teasing and often felt lonely and isolated. This is what many with disabilities feel and Special Olympics hope to change this to a world where everyone can fit in, participate and be treated without discrimination. Special Olympics want to achieve a new world of unity, tolerance, and respect. They are working to encourage more unified sports in schools and providing their athletes with opportunities to participate in leadership training. Training that can help them find employment and succeed in the workplace. Special Olympics is working to educate businesses to see the potential these individuals have. They want everyone to see the abilities of each individual and not focus only their disability.
While at the Games, I sat watching my daughter compete in Powerlifting. As I sat there, I realized I was far from alone. Besides Bree’s Dad, I sat with Bree’s friends. Friends, Bree has made through the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run Program. These friends are police officers who work all year long to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois in addition to what they do for us in our communities. These officers give up so much of their free time for all the athletes of Special Olympics. As the families sat watching their athlete compete, these officers sat with us, they took pictures with, placed medals on and cheered for our athletes. These are men and women who don’t have to attend, but they choose to include this event and our athletes in their lives.
Also, sitting near me was Bree’s future teammate from Tennessee Wesleyan University. I met this young woman once, on our visit to see the campus. Now, she was volunteering at the Summer Games and she was excited to watch and support Bree as she competed. From the minute we arrived on the TWU campus, my daughter was welcomed, she was included and people saw her potential not only as a runner, but also as a student and a human being. For so long, many people with disabilities, including my daughter, have felt like no one wanted them around. They were made to feel different and they often were excluded or ignored.
As I reflected on Summer Games, I smiled at the realization that we are living the “Inclusion Revolution.” Bree has been recruited, accepted and will attend a four year university soon. She will take the next step into what we hope will be a step for many just like her. We hope she will educate others along her way and we hope we can inspire others to #ChoosetoInclude
For more information on the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration – https://www.specialolympics.org/50th.aspx
Photo: TWU teammates, Bree Bogucki with Mysteree Bottorff at the Special Olympics IL Summer Games.