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Special Olympics LA
Joanna Keating-Velasco with Debi Anderson

July was an exciting month in Southern California since Los Angeles hosted the Special Olympics World Game welcoming 6500 athletes from 165 nations competing in 25 different sports. I’ve been anticipating this excitement for over a year, because one of my friends, Debi Anderson, has been promoting this event for a while. She has been participating in Special Olympics for seventeen years. Through her involvement in the program, she excelled not only in her competitions, but she evolved into a Special Olympics advocate. She was an LA2015 Board Member and is a Special Olympics Global Messenger who has taken her message of acceptance and perseverance from Orange County to the White House and even to South Korea for the Winter World Games in 2013. Debi’s personal motto is “nothing is impossible” and with family and friend support, she has lived that statement over and over again.

Sitting in the stands for the Closing Ceremonies of the World Games, I was in awe at how Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s idea of encouraging kids with disabilities to be active and participate in sports eventually led to the founding of the Special Olympics. Sitting just seats away from her son, Tim and daughter Maria, I was thinking they must be so proud of what their mother’s idea has blossomed into on this global stage.

How can you get your child involved with Special Olympics?

Seek a Program 

Find out if your child’s district has a Special Olympics program. Special Olympics has active programs in 170 countries with over 4 million athletes. Or contact the Special Olympics office near you to seek out their programs. If the area in which you live doesn’t have an active program, consider gathering support to start one. If that’s too overwhelming, look into ways your child can integrate into typical sport activities or for special team sports opportunities.

Explore Interests 

What does your child like to do when he is active? Does he run? Perhaps track is his sport. Do you have a daughter who dances when she hears music? She may enjoy rhythmic gymnastics. Perhaps your child is really into animals; consider special lessons with horseback riding or equine therapy to investigate this interest. You can simply explore interests before officially becoming part of Special Olympics.

Invest in Those Interests 

For example, if your child takes an interest in bowling, during summer join a youth bowling league. Make sure you are at a location that is enthusiastically interested in working with your child; so that this is a fun outing. Make it a family adventure and go bowling on the weekends to further refine the skill and build confidence for your child in a family atmosphere. If skating is her interest, take lessons at a local rink and make it a family activity on occasion. If your child enjoys water play, perhaps swimming lessons or aqua therapy would be fun.

Get Involved 

Don’t just drop your child off to practice and completions. Be part of the team with the coaches. Find out if there are ways that you can help the coach with refreshments, equipment or social gatherings after competitions. Perhaps you can help with uniforms or equipment. Through your involvement, you might even make some good friends with the other families involved.

Celebrate Victories and Learn from Defeats 

The Special Olympics oath is “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in my attempt.” Eunice Kennedy Shriver penned this oath in 1968 at the opening of the very first Special Olympics World Games. The words focus on the importance of striving for one’s personal best. Winners are rewarded with medals. For those who lose, they are encouraged by other athletes and fans to continue to try again. Important life lessons are learned on the playing fields and everyone is cheered.

While the Special Olympics World Games 2015 have officially concluded in Los Angeles, the many triumphs and stories of courage have left us locals feeling like we are all wearing gold medals around our necks.