Good afternoon! I would like to share some stories with you today about myself.
Being bullied and teased by my peers was the hardest part. I could not understand why they didn’t want to be my friend. Even before I attended school, when my parents took my younger brother (who is also mildly intellectually disabled) and I to a playground we would be teased. My parents would be very upset and talk to the kids that were teasing us and explain how some children are different than others, but in the end, we all wanted the same thing. We wanted to play and have fun at the playground just like they did.
We moved to Indiana when I was 7 years old. Thankfully my parents chose a neighborhood that had kids my age. My parents made friends with the other neighbors quickly. Their children were a little hesitant at first to form a friendship with my brother and I, but once we got to know each other, we found out we had a lot of things in common and we became the best of friends. Most have moved away now, have families of their own, but we keep in touch.
School was difficult at first. The bullying and teasing by my peers continued. My friends from the neighborhood tried to help me out whenever they were there at the time of the teasing. As I got older, teasing was less, but there was always that one bully that was relentless.
I loved learning, but certain subjects in school were harder for me to understand, such as English and Math. I loved Social Studies and Science. Social Studies was my favorite subject. Before GPS was available, I used to read road atlases all the time. My parents never needed a map when I was traveling with them as I could tell them which roads to take without looking at the atlas.
I joined Special Olympics when I was 8 years old. It helped me in many ways. I always enjoyed running, and I liked competing. Being able to compete against other athletes with similar abilities, I began to feel like an athlete. It also gave me confidence!
But, the highlight of my running career was yet to come. Seven years ago, I competed for Team USA in the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece. I ran on the same track that Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Hicham Al Guerrouj of Morocco ran in the Olympics in 2004. I competed against some of the best Special Olympics athletes in the world and was very happy to win a Bronze medal.
But today, I am 33 years old and have struggled to maintain my health. When I ran in high school I was 6'4" and weighed 140 pounds! I've gained almost 10 pounds a year since high school. I now understand what too many microwave dinners and too much Mountain Dew will do for you, and now I am again working to stay on the road to good health.
I work three-part time jobs. I am employed at Mary Max Theater in Logansport, taking tickets, filling up ice and soda machines and various other duties. I also work for Pepsi, stocking shelves at Wal-Mart and Martin’s Supermarket. Occasionally, ARC of Indiana receives a grant from the State of Indiana that allows me to interview disabled people (not all are intellectually disabled) to see how they are doing in a nursing home or group home setting.
I love music and attend a lot of concerts and have met many bands after their performance. Last year I received my license for Scuba Diving and I am looking forward to diving at Epcot DiveQuest in their large aquarium later this month and in the Caribbean in a few months.
Recently, I traveled to DC as a Health Messenger for Special Olympics, meeting with senators and diplomats. I want to help other athletes and individuals like me, with their health.
My parents have always said “Live life to the fullest”. I would like to think I have at this point, but I know there are many more life adventures ahead of me and more ways to live fully and to the best of my potential.