It’s an exciting time as we watch the Olympic Summer Games finally take place in Tokyo. This once-every-four-years event is one of competition for which coveted medals are awarded, and we share in the pride of champions as we celebrate the victories they achieve. But beyond that, it is an event that walks the talk in terms of inclusion, promotes unity among its global participants, demonstrates the depth of our similarities as opposed to our differences, and celebrates striving for excellence and being our best.
Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities. With a mission to transform lives through the joy of sport, more than 5 million athletes in 200 countries participate in Special Olympics, supported by more than a million volunteers.
Mark, an IDD Individual who has been part of Evergreen Service Providers’ residential program for more than ten years, is one of those athletes. He’d faced some tough challenges, but soon after Carol, his Host Home Provider (HHP) of more than 20 years, welcomed Mark into her home, his life started to change. Carol got him involved in Special Olympics right away.
Mark is especially drawn to track and field and shines as a long distance, endurance runner, able to maintain an impressively consistent pace. He also enjoys bowling, softball, and swimming. Over the 20+ years he’s participated in Special Olympics, he’s won more than 50 gold, silver, or bronze medals, including a bronze medal for the 5K run at regional competitions. He’s also won blue ribbons in the softball throw. In recent years he’s participated in the renowned BolderBoulder Memorial Day Classic 10K run and once placed second in his age category.
But despite all the medals Mark has won, Carol shares that the awards are not Mark’s focus. It’s not a spirit of competition with the other athletes that has made him such a winner. Mark competes with himself – always going for his personal best and then working to better his best.
As with the global Olympic Games, Special Olympics gives participants a sense of inclusion and demonstrates that – with or without disability – we are all very much alike and find joy in being our best. Mark is not only a Special Olympics champion but a champion in life.
His physical accomplishments are remarkable, but his life has changed in other ways that are equally extraordinary. When Mark first came to Carol’s home, he was uncomfortable in social situations and close contact with other people. Through his participation in Special Olympics, he has found a community, which translates to being part of the larger community in which he lives. He has made friends and learned the skills to continue to make new friends. He converses comfortably with the Individuals with whom he bowls and plays softball. He has developed focus and skills that enable him to do his own laundry, fold his clothes, and clean up after himself. He and Carol together have found ways for Mark to adapt in several areas that were previously challenging for him.
This kind of transformation for IDD Individuals and the opportunity to experience success in life is a perfect example of why Evergreen Service Providers exists. We seek the perfect match for each Individual in a Host Home Provider, and an environment that will provide them with dignity, stability, and opportunities to grow and thrive. That is what Mark has in Carol. Her big heart, empathy, personal experiences, and insights provide her with invaluable tools for working with him and other IDD Individuals with whom she’s shared her home since becoming a Host Home Provider in 1992. She recognizes the importance of helping her charges find a sense of accomplishment in what they do, which translates to confidence and self-esteem.
This safe, caring environment has empowered Mark to be who he is, find his gifts, become what he is capable of being, and continue to grow. Carol says that Mark is very intelligent and “…a good man who makes his own path. He’s a driving force now.” Mark is thriving in this environment. He recognizes his challenges and works to adapt so that they are no longer limitations. He takes responsibility for himself. Rather than comparing himself to others, Mark works to be the best version of himself. He’s an inspiration and a reminder to us all that we can be the champions of our own lives.