Lately, I have been more aware of our athletes’ presence in their respective communities around our state. Facebook allows me to know what our athletes are up to, and I love seeing how they are engaged in the world. Special Olympics is intentional about building athlete engagement through Unified Sports programs.
Special Olympics works hard to partner people with intellectual disabilities and those without, as they train and compete together on the same team. The program is called Unified Sports. Special Olympics New Mexico offers competition in unified golf, unified bocce, unified volleyball, unified softball, unified bowling, unified flag football, and unified track and aquatics relays. We are also building our Unified Champion Schools programs statewide. This program offers unified sports to students during the school day and in 2017, twenty-nine New Mexico schools participated. Statistics show that 86% of the school staff felt like the program made a big impact on reducing bullying and teasing in their schools, and 84% of the students regarded the experience as a positive turning point in their lives.
Inclusion does this – it leads to BELONGING. When we feel like we don’t belong somewhere, we aren’t free to be who we are. If you have not experienced that feeling before, be thankful, because it’s terrible. When people are made to feel they belong, it’s a whole different story. It’s not about simply being included; it’s about knowing that when you’re not there you are sorely missed. If you have experienced BELONGING, be thankful, because it’s wonderful.
People with intellectual disabilities have been blessed with certain gifts that can only be appreciated by hanging out with them, including them, inviting them. Truth is, we all belong here. When we realize that, “HERE” is a much better place.