‘I’m doing very well, aren’t I?’ In the middle of her first big race in Special Olympics, way out in front, Aisling stopped to ask us, at the sideline, how she was doing! We had been training hard for this day, Aisling looked so smart in her running gear, and now finally the finishing line was in sight—what could we do except laugh and tell her ‘yes’, she was doing very well, and that as usual we were very proud of her. Aisling did go on to win a medal, and her collection has grown quite considerably since then. It is this story, however, that I always recount to other parents when I speak to them about the benefits of Special Olympics for the athlete and also for the family. It is an important story, because it was the first time that Aisling won a medal in her own right, competing against athletes who have a similar ability to her, and in this case she deserved to win.
My husband and I first heard of Special Olympics about four years ago. A group of parents were getting together to form a club—were we interested? The group was small to begin with and we knew many of the parents already. Aisling was shy, naturally enough. However, our two coaches, Jo and Dervila, made her feel so welcome that she soon forgot to check if we were still in the hall. Warm-up exercises became games of fun and laughter, and by the end of her first session we were all ready for what Special Olympics had to offer.
Over these four years, Aisling’s involvement with Special Olympics has brought about many positive changes in all our lives. She has gained greater self-esteem and courage on the athletics track. She is now aware of her capabilities and what she can achieve. Her coaches have built on the skills she had and improved her competitive ability, so that ultimately she can participate in Special Olympics local, regional and national games, with pride. At home, we too have been encouraged to continue this training. Aisling has shown us that she is like any other athlete—she has the ability to achieve anything, once she sets her mind to it. Her sense of fair play has extended to other areas of her life and includes respect for others who may not be as capable as she is. Her skills have helped her to integrate more fully into the sports programme in her school, and her achievements have been an incentive to other young people to become involved and to join Special Olympics. As a family, we have joined Special Olympics Families committees and now promote the organisation to parent and school associations. Although Aisling is only eleven, she sometimes joins us at these presentations, and in her own way she is perhaps the most effective resource in helping other parents to see the immense possibilities that exist for their son or daughter. We help to run family centres at games, to provide information, refreshments and a place to rest and relax.
As parents, our sense of joy and pride in Aisling’s achievements is second to none. We no longer worry when she is in a competitive situation and may not win. Her own sense of pride in her participation in any games means that she will always be a winner!