Special Olympics Are More Than Special

I have written about my first day of “coaching” volleyball with the Special Olympics here. Now we have had several practices under our belt and it is getting better every Sunday.

I am no athlete. The athletes I am working with are by far better than me. I don’t feel embarrassed about it, though.

Today, we were working on setting, bumping and serving. I have never been good at any of those, so I am learning along with the athletes. WE all cheer for each other every attempt we make. I cheer for them, and they cheer for me. It’s give and take, which is a beautiful sight to see after all of the nonsense in the world outside of the gym.

We practiced hitting it over the next. I actually made it over. I served (standing way up towards the net) and bumped pretty well. It was fun, and I feel like I am actually learning how to play.

Learning the sport is fun, but the company is better. I don’t just look forward to playing. I look forward the the people I am playing with. Between having one of the athletes point out his JMU gear every Sunday, and being so proud about it, or having one of the players tell me that I should write a book of poetry so everybody will tell me how good I am, even if I don’t think I’m good, I’d say these are some of the best people ever.

I love watching the players learn as we clap and cheer along with them. High-fives are spread freely. Smiles are on all faces. Support is everywhere you look.

From stretching to saying goodbye, you never know what is going to happen. There might be a ball getting stuck in the stands and everybody rushing to get it. We might have a big laugh when someone says something funny.

We are not coaches and athletes. We are a team.Nobody is more important than the other, and we are all working together to be the best we can be.

Their needs aren’t the only thing special about them. In fact, it doesn’t even come into play when we are on the court. We are all one, and we have all won, even if we haven’t had a tournament yet. I am so proud to be a part of the Special Olympics team, both as a coach and a person learning how to play.

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My First Day Of Practice

Picture: Wikipedia

Yesterday was my first day as an assistant coach for the Special Olympics volleyball skills team. I had been looking forward to it the whole previous week. I was also a little nervous. As someone who had only played volleyball in gym class and was not the greatest, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to teach the sport. I worried about this, but I kept my hopes high and knew it would be a rewarding experience.

My father was driving me to the gym, when I realized I had left my paperwork at home. I had left my information sheet and the two certificates for the courses I had to complete to be a volunteer. I was worried they wouldn’t let me help. Luckily my dad said he’d go home and get them before practice was over. This was fine with the head coordinator, so I jumped into the practice.

First we warmed up. We stretched our legs and arms. The athletes seemed to enjoy this, and I loved watching them spin around in joy.Then it was time to start learning.

I was also learning. The coach had me practice serving along with the athletes. I also helped encourage them. There was one younger girl who had a hard time listening to instructions, but with some help, she would try. Many of them were really good at serving, and the others were improving with each hit. I was also improving each time the ball left my hands and hit or rolled underneath the net. We were learning together

We also worked on the volley. One coach would throw the ball to an athlete, who would then volley it to me. They were mostly good at this. Sometimes they only used one hand, or would hit it too low, but once again, they were improving with each instruction sent their way.

The more I went through practice, the more I realized how they were not that different than those of us without disabilities. They would come up to me to introduce themselves. I had one woman come up and ask me my name, and shake my hand. I told her and she told me hers. Then a few minutes later, she came up, shook my hand and asked how old I was. I told her and then she told me hers. They were all so loving and outgoing. I didn’t meet one grumpy face or harsh tones. They have an appreciation for life that i think we can all learn from. Sure, they have difficulties, but they don’t let it define them. I didn’t hear one word about disabilities the whole practice. They are the true meaning of “not my disability”. They put their heart into the game and their interactions with others. There were stubborn times and happy times. They all cheered for each other and showed care for everyone. It was an empowering experience for all of us.

I might have been embarrassed when the  head coach asked  me to practice the sport, but it just showed that we can all use some help. The athletes were much better than me, but I am going to learn how to be the best assistant coach I can be

Life and Why It’s Meaningless

There are some days that I wake up and am excited to church. Others, I am tired, cranky, and don’t want to get out of bed for anything. Today was a mix of both. I was pretty tired, but I only stayed in bed about ten minutes after my dad told me to wake up, instead of twenty minutes and dragging me out of my comfy kingdom where dreams come true.

Waking up to face the world, where those dreams are far away, is never fun. However, today I was a bit excited for the church service. I figured they were going to talk about Dottie, the amazing woman who passed away recently.Our whole church was shaken by her death. I also was excited to be with my church family, who grieved along with me and to give each other a sort of comfort you can only find at a church.

Recently, I have been having a hard time keeping up and paying attention in church. The only thing I can keep my concentration at least part of the time iste sermon. This is where my pastor gets to use his own words to describe the lessons we are learning that day. Today. That theme was asking the question “Is life meaningless?”

As someone who has dealt with suicidal thoughts on and off for years, this question hit me hard. Is life meaningless? One example my pastor gave was from a baseball player. When the player was asked how he got through each game, he answered this: “Ten million years from now, when then sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen iceball hurtling through space, nobody’s going to care whether or not I got this guy out.” (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/quotes/quomcg.shtml)

Is this true? Is nothing I am doing now going to matter to anyone when the world ends, or when I end, whichever comes first? To a person who has dealt with suicidal thoughts, the answer to this is NO. Nothing I’ve done, even if I someday become the most famous writer in the world, is going to matter the the sun sucking us in. I’ll matter as much as murderers. Even if it’s just me dying and the world doesn’t end for a million years, those million years later, no one is going to think about me at those million years, or in a thousand years, or even in a hundred. If the history books were to ever say my name, those books are going to be gone or worthless by the time the world ends. I am not special.

My pastor also talked about Dottie and her boyfriend John’s recent deaths. John, who also lived with Down syndrome, died very soon after Dottie. It is believed that he died of the stress of losing Dottie. The pastor talked about how even with their challenges, they lived a full life, even fuller than some of us without a disability. They didn’t think life was meaningless.

The Special Olympics choir sang a couple songs at Dottie’s funeral, and those kids were fully into it. Even though their friend was gone, they put their full hearts into the performance. They live every moment of their life in a meaningful way.

We need to be like them. Yes, I might feel like life is useless sometimes. I might think I’d rather be dead than face the reality that life means nothing, that I mean nothing. It sometimes feels like I have a weight on my chest keeping me from doing anything useful, and that I am worthless and nobody needs me. These people who live with disabilities don’t let them get in the way. They live life to the fullest, not caring if people are going to remember them or not.

While life might be a black hole in the times I am suicidal, it can also be the sun. Not the sun sucking us in, the sun giving us light, allowing us to live.

Who care’s if we are remembered in a thousand years? As long as we live a life that pleases us, why worry if we are a memory preserved in time? We are here. We are now. Let the future belong to those who live there. Dottie and John never let their disabilities define them. We shouldn’t let our problems tell us we are nothing.

Life might seem meaningless at times. To tell you the truth, I think that life is meaningless at times. This is just my brain talking. It is just your brain talking. We are not nothing. We are something. Our problems won’t keep us from heavens. If we act as a child, with no worries of being remembered, we will get a lot farther than adults who spend life thinking life has no point.

Suicidal thoughts are the stem of why this sermon was so meaningful. Everybody has their own reasons. I’m sure everyone was shocked and deeply moved by my pastors words. We all learned that we are not everything, but we are something that is worth being acknowledged in our lives and in God’s kingdom above.

 

We Carry On

My face is dry

After five days of tears

Months of worry

Heart touched for years

 

Lifetime of friendship

Doesn’t end when Death comes

He might have a black cloak

She has a quilt made of love

 

Numbness settles in

A stage of deep grief

We all stand together

Hold hope with our teeth

 

It tries to fly away

Bitemarks turn to blood

Coursing through our bodies

While fear fits us like a glove

 

Scared of reality

Hit hard by the storm

Black is our color

Death will never mourn

 

However, we do

Our hearts will not change

Love is forever

No matter what they say

 

Memories don’t fly away

In time, we will find

Her bright teeth full frontal

Will unfreeze our minds

 

While life was cut short

It was also very long

We stand together

As we carry on

Who I Am

Have you ever done anything that just felt right? Something that clicked and made you realize “This is what I need to do”? This does not occur often, but I had one of these experiences yesterday.

I have shared my most recent career option with you all (Occupational Therapy) and I have actually stuck with it. Be surprised and be proud. I do not stick to these things often, but this time is different, I swear. OT is actually a viable option for me, because it is what I love to do. Helping people, working with anatomy, physiology, and psychology, and getting to do fun things to work with people is the way to go. My parents have told me over and over that working with children, specifically those with special needs, is the way to go, and I have finally realized that they are right.

I broke down and played Barbies with my ten year old sister the other day after putting it off for quite some time. There was one condition I had for the game though. We had to play hospital. I actually played Occupational Therapy and helped the “patients” in the game. If that is not true love for a career, I don’t know what is.

The real “aha” moment came yesterday. I had decided with my career counselor a couple weeks ago that I would volunteer in the high needs room at school. After talking to the teacher, it was decided that I would come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Yesterday being Tuesday, it was my first day in the room II was extremely nervous before I went. There were butterflies who had eaten a bag of sugar fluttering around in my stomach. It is scary to be in a new environment, but I was also excited. I had been waiting for this day since last week. It was finally here! Right before I walked in, I was worried I would mess up. Those fears were relieved as soon as I walked in the room.

When I walked into the room, there was one kid, but shortly after several more came in. They went to sit down, so I introduced myself to them. Those kids are wonderful. They all said hello and talked to me. I actually talked to several of them about music. One girl had a 5 Seconds of Summer shirt on, so I complimented her on it. She came up to me and asked me who my favorite member was. We talked about them, and then another girl took out a magazine with Justin Bieber on it. While I am not a fan, I asked her about him. One of the other girls was talking about her family and musicians she liked. I immediately felt comfortable.

After a little while, we went to the gym. The teacher told me all of the kids names, and told me a little bit about each one of them. Then, I went up to several of the girls and one boy to play basketball. We threw it, me mostly catching balls and encouraging them. I learned about the kids by watching them and talking to them. One girl asked if she could be my friend, and the others just came up to me and talked. I have never felt more welcomed. They are wonderful kids, and I couldn’t be happier to be working with them.

At the end of my time in the room yesterday, I was smiling and couldn’t stop. It made me realize that YES, I do want to work with kids like these amazing individuals. I want to make a difference and help people. Tomorrow, I am going in there again. There is an OT in there on Thursdays, so I get to see how one works. I cannot wait, and I am glad that I have found my calling. I have found where I need to go, what I need to do, and the path I should go on. Thank you to all the kids I met yesterday, for making me realize not only who you all are, but who I am.

Why OT? : The Perfect Career For Me

Why do I want to become an Occupational Therapist? To answer that question, I might have to address some questions that you all have. Many people do not know what Occupational Therapy (OT) is. It can be confusing, as many people think that it involves helping people with their jobs. On one hand, that is correct. OTs help people with occupations, or the things we have to do everyday. This can be making taking a shower, cooking, or driving safer for a stroke victim, or helping a child with their handwriting. Maybe you would help somebody who is hurt put their socks on with a special device, or help an autistic child with their sensory needs. You could work in a nursing home, a school, a hospital, or a private office. Many OTs choose a specialty, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, or people with physical disabilities.

I am not an expert by any means, but I have done my fair share of research. I have read many, many websites, looked in books, and watched countless videos. There is so much out there to learn about. After talking to my career counselor at school, I have realized that the field of OT is for me. He is going to help me set up a job shadow with an OT and I have gotten in touch with my admissions counselor at Mary Baldwin College. Mary Baldwin has a graduate program for a Doctorate in OT that I am interested in, and they have an undergrad path to OT.

Back to the question of “Why OT?”. There are several reasons for me, but it started back when I was 14 years old. I was in my first hospital, and worked with an Occupational Therapist. He made therapy fun, letting us bake cookies, plant flowers, and do all kinds of art activities. Ever since then OT has been in my mind as a job option. He taught us that we could be independent, while having fun and getting help if we needed it. I want to inspire that in other children. The group I want to work with are children with autism and developmental disabilities. These exceptional children inspire me every day, and I want to do the same for them. If I could make a kid’s job of living, playing, and learning easier and more fun, that would make me the happiest worker in the world.

I have thought of other jobs, the most recent being journalism, but none of these have made me as happy as OT. Everybody in my family has said that they think I would be great at it, but most importantly, I think I would be great at it.Hopefully, I can follow this dream that has been in the back of my head for years now.

 

Below is a video of how OT works. You can watch it, and maybe be inspired like I was

Helping People Helps Me

Working with special needs children has always been a love of mine. My love of helping these amazing individuals when I was about 13 years old. I had not been around many people with special needs, except for a woman, who I love, at my church. She has down syndrome and is the most loving individual you could ever meet. She makes little cards during the church service that say “I love you” and gives the best fist bump you will ever receive. Other than her, I had not been exposed to many people with special needs. Then, I found out about a place called Ride With Pride. The whole concept for the place is phenomenal. It is a horse barn for people with special needs.They not only learn how to ride a horse, but how to take care of one. It improves their self esteem and teaches them how to be independant. I loved the idea, so I applied to be a volunteer there. Working with those children was one of the best things I have ever done. Some were autistic and some had physical disabilities. Others had trouble with social skills. I remember one girl I worked with. We connected immediately, which is a big deal. She had trouble with social skills and anger. It was difficult for her to open up to people, but we grew close. I don’t know a lot about horses, but helping her come out of her shell was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I have since stopped working there, but her smile and hugs stick with me.

When I was hospitalized at the beginning of my journey, there was a boy, probably about 15. While he was older than me, he was severely developmentally disabled. I loved that boy, in the way that I wanted to help him as much as I could. The only person at the time who he would listen to was me. He had an obsession with “guns” and would “shoot” them all of the time, pretending with his arms. Nobody could get him to stop, but I finally figured out a way. I would pretend to call the cops with my hand. I’m not sure that he realized that I was not, but he responded well. I could get him to listen to me and do what he was supposed to when nobody else could. He was a very special boy to me, and I will always remember him.

During another hospital stay, there was a girl about a year or so younger than me. She was socially awkward and possibly had Asperger’s syndrome. I’m definitely not a doctor, but she showed many of the characteristics. These were not flaws though. They made her better. First of all, she was obsessed, and I mean OBSESSED with Rihanna. She could talk about her for hours if you let her. During her most hyper moments. you had to get her to stop if you wanted to talk about something else. We had a lot of fun together, and she listened to me. Her hugs were amazing, because she didn’t give them to many people. They came sparingly, but I loved them.

Another moment I remember is going to an assisted living home with my grandmother. It is a place for people with disabilities and folks who need a little extra help getting back on their feet. Halloween was the first time that I went. We threw a party for them and met several of the people. They would tell you their stories, and one man stuck out to me. He was a man who could not talk very well and was in a wheelchair. That did not damper his personality at all. He told me his story about how he had been in a car accident and had gotten badly hurt. It makes you think about how you are when you are in a car. He told me to always make sure I am wearing a seatbelt. I always think about it and him when I get into a car. When I went back for Christmas, he remembered me, and we talked some more. I loved the other residents as well. We gave them presents, handed out food, and and Christmas carols with them. It was a great experience.

A job with children that have special needs would make me extremely happy. Music journalism is still my number one goal, but for the time being, I am planning on pursuing a major in psychology and go to graduate school either to get my doctorate in occupational therapy, or a masters in Applied Behavior Analysis. You might not have hear of one or both of these things, so let me explain. Occupational therapy is the job of helping people live their daily life. You might help a geriatric patient learn how to get in a bathtub, teach an autistic kid social skills, or help people with mental illness manage their emotions among other things. The job basically helps improve a patient’s quality of life. Independent living is the main goal for the people you help. I had an occupational therapist work with me while I was at a hospital, and that really showed me how much I loved the job and what it did. Below is a video to show you a bit more about the career:

http://https://www.youtube.comr/watch?v=D9yQJZI6kEw

Applied behavior analysis is a little bit different. For starters, the technician works mainly with children with autism. You help the child end their problematic behaviors and reward their positive ones. Getting the child accustomed to daily life is the hope for every ABA. Both jobs seem like a good fit for me. A video is below to show you more about ABA:

I did not write this post to brag about how I am good with those with special needs. I wrote it to talk about my passion for helping others. My goal is to share with you my hopes for the future. Occupational therapy has been an option for a long time, while ABA has been around much shorter for me. I believe that occupational therapy is higher up on my list, but I am still considering ABA, as it sounds great as well. Decisions are difficult for me, but I have plenty of time. That is good, as I have switched ideal jobs many many times. I will figure it out, but until then, I will explore.