On March 8, 2014, I had the privilege of volunteering at the Special Olympics of Maryland Basketball tournament here at McDaniel College. Opportunities like this look great on resumes, provide community service hours, and just make a person feel good for helping a wonderful cause. Though these things are true, opportunities like this offer many wonderful things beyond the surface. When I found out that my college was hosting a tournament, I immediately knew that I had to find whatever spreadsheet was out there and get my name on it before it filled up.
As an athlete myself, I’ve felt the inexplicable feelings of competition. I could never imagine denying anyone that thrill if they so seek it. Volunteering for a cause like this is an amazing way, as an athlete, to share the experience with people who would not have otherwise had the chance. The NCAA Division III SAAC has a national partnership with Special Olympics so it was absolutely incredible to see so many athletes interacting with the players and helping them to achieve their dreams. How special is that?
I could go on about how the experience changed me as an athlete, but I believe that my experience goes much deeper. My little brother (not-so-little anymore) is the light of my life. He is 10 years old now and growing up with him has truly opened my eyes to a much broader scope of the world and how I view people. We noticed early on that he was having difficulty with speaking and was delayed in a few aspects of verbal development. After searching for answers from schools and therapists and doctors, he was put on the autism spectrum at age 4. He has never made the diagnoses his excuse, nor has he fought his struggles with anything but grace and a smile. He truly is my inspiration and I could not be more thankful to learn from him and love him every day.
My favorite thing to do is to play golf with my brother. Sharing my passion with him is my definition of joy, not to mention he’s pretty good! I immediately could see that the sport was teaching him things and helping him grow in more ways than just making a putt. He was learning concentration skills, endurance skills, and most importantly, sportsmanship skills. All of this went unbeknownst to him as he was just excited to drive the golf cart!
Through my experiences with my brother, I knew from a young age that I wanted to help with the Special Olympics one day. I figured that sharing athletic experiences with people with special needs is a great way to bond and help them grow, like it does for my brother. I was fortunate enough to sign up as a Team Representative here at McDaniel at our basketball tournament, which meant that I could follow a team around and be a mentor as well as a personal cheerleader. I can honestly say that I have never met a friendlier group of people nor had a day filled with more hugs and smiles. That, in and of itself, was rewarding.
But the moment that left me speechless was in the middle of a big basketball game that my team was playing in. One of the players subbed out of the game to get some water. He was frustrated because his team was losing and they really had no chance of making a comeback. He looked at me with sweat pouring off of his face and said, “It’s okay, because I can’t control what the other team does. Only what I do.” He then walked back over towards his coach to get back in the game. His outlook is something that I will carry with me; especially at times when it feels like the world is plotting against me. His ability to see life with such clarity, even in the midst of a chaotic basketball game, will inspire me as I hope I inspired him that day. I thought that by volunteering, I would be helping the athletes… I could never have imagined the life lessons that they would teach me.
Volunteering for the Special Olympics is truly an experience unlike any other. The opportunity to help athletes pursue their dreams is a wonderful and humbling experience. The Special Olympics always welcomes volunteers, and it is a wonderful way to get involved and change lives. The Carroll County Special Olympics is hosting their annual Spring Games this year on April 30th, 2014. If you have any questions about getting involved, please contact Laurie Brewer, Area Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage everyone, not even just athletes, to volunteer for the games. The lessons that it teaches you last far beyond the afternoon and you have the opportunity to leave these players with the same blessing.