Conquering Communication Challenges

One of the most amazing things about Special Olympics World Games is to watch athletes from countries and cultures all around the world overcome language barriers. Speed skating athlete Jannai Kennedy from Virginia understood communication challenges long before she came to the Republic of Korea. Jannai was born deaf. Her interaction with athletes from other countries parallels the interaction athletes back home have with her. “They don’t talk the same language, I don’t understand their language”, Jannai said.

Jannai traveled to World Games with her sign language interpreter Maggie Drilling. “It is probably the first time that anyone has understood what her life is like, to have someone talk to you and not know what they are saying. Maggie said.

“It’s really fun to see her in the pre-heat room because that is where she is sitting with athletes from other countries. The first couple of times she would look at me to know what they were saying and I told her I didn’t know,” said Maggie. She said Jannai and her competitors find a common connection in a universal language. “They touch a lot, and use hand gestures, high fives, smiles and bow. That has been great for her because she has been on an even level. That is what she always does, figures out a way to connect. It is nice to have other people really connect with her,” Maggie said smiling. Jannai smiled as he talked about all the new friends she has met.

Maggie has been interpreting for Jannai for more than three years. She says some people will turn away from Jannai because they don’t know how to connect with her. But Jannai’s teammates supported her from the first day they met her at Training Camp in December. “Her fellow teammates have been fantastic. They are willing to look at her, talk to her, include her and play with her. She’s happy and that is what they have done. A few of them have even learned some signs and sign with her,” Maggie said.

Maggie is grateful for that, because the communication challenges became a bit more challenging for Jannai, when Maggie slipped on ice and fell during one of the Team’s first days in Seoul. It wasn’t serious, but Maggie bruised a bone and had to wear her arm in a sling. She spent the next several days signing left handed and modifying her signing. She said Jannai was very understanding and adapted well.

Although Jannai has adapted, Maggie said she was worried that Jannai’s dependence on her would interfere with her team bonding experience. “She knows me so well and is so dependent on me that I was afraid she would just be with me and not experience independence and not be a full part of the team. But she has definitely felt comfortable enough to interact with them on her own and have the full experience. It is wonderful to see that. Sometimes she can be shy and isn’t always engaged. But she is 100 percent in it to win it,” Maggie said.

Since Jannai is deaf she has to be more aware of what is going around her on the ice all the time. She also has to completely rely on hand signals for coaching. But Maggie said that didn’t stop her from earning a medal, “When she got her silver medal and came upstairs to show everyone, she started balling. It was really touching because it meant she understood how hard she worked and appreciated the accomplishment. It was something special for her.” Jannai said, “It made me feel happy and sad too, I was happy I won, I cried because I was really happy.”

Maggie is happy that athletes from around the world are learning an important lesson from their interactions with each other, “Even if people can’t hear you or don’t speak your language, you can still communicate with them and connect with them, they are still worth being your friend and talking to.”

A True Team Player

Figure Skating athlete Kelly Bradshaw is the epitome of a team player, and she brings something special with her everywhere she goes. “She always has a smile on her face and is always there to give everybody a huge hug,” said her coach.
Kelly and her coach Leslie Kelley have several things in common. Kelly’s first name is Leslie’s last name, just spelled slightly different. Kelly has been skating for 28 years. That’s pretty impressive to Leslie, who is 28-years old.
Leslie is Kelly’s Special Olympics coach in Virginia where they both live. She has known Kelly since 1999 and says she is so deserving of this opportunity to compete at the Special Olympics 2013 World Winter Games. “She is the cheerleader of the group,” Leslie said.
Kelly would like to win gold, but she also understands the importance of cheering on her teammates. “It is so special to come here and meet new countries and new friends, and be supportive of everybody and congratulate them, that is what you’re supposed to do.”
Kelly was one of three athletes from Virginia eligible for the figure skating spot she was selected for on Special Olympics Team USA. She learned about her spot on the team when her mom gave her a card that said congratulations on the front. “I was speechless trying to read it. There were happy tears and joy, that I get to be here”, Kelly said.
Kelly says she’s enjoying every minute of her time in the Republic of Korea, “To come to Korea and see what it’s like and try different thing like the food. The food is awesome, it’s just different because it’s a different culture.”

Although Kelly would like to get a gold medal, she is also in touch with her team, “No matter what I get, I’ll be happy and I’ll be happy for everyone else to.”

Champions In Everything They Do

Studying videos of opponents is something that many coaches throughout the world do regularly.  What makes each coach unique is what they do with the information.  For Special Olympics Team USA floor hockey coach Keith Nelson, he opted to focus on healthier lifestyles as the path to success.  Upon learning of the team’s selection to represent the United States at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in the Republic of Korea, Coach Nelson knew he had more to tackle than just sports technique and training: many on his team had a very real challenge to address – being overweight. He and his other coaches determined through the analysis that they could win more games with speed and endurance.  This would require the team to focus on a combination of weight loss, strength training and self-motivation.

Coach Nelson chose his own son Ryan to be the catalyst for team change.  He thought that it was important for one of the coach’s sons to be the lead example.  Ryan committed to giving up soda, bettering his food choices and participating in the daily workout program laid out by his coaches.  Following Ryan’s example, 14 of his team members embraced the team’s strategy.  Of the 14 who took Coach Nelson’s challenge, 13 lost weight.  With the World Winter Games as their motivation, the floor hockey team from Southern California cumulatively lost more than 400 pounds.

Their focus was not solely on weight loss, but also daily movement, reducing body fat and teaching exercises the athletes could do at home, without equipment. The team developed a mantra they called “Champions.”  They rightly believe that they are Champions in everything they do, on the court, in training, off the court, and in their daily personal and work lives.  It was about making a conscious lifestyle change.  This lifestyle change would in turn lead to the increased team speed and endurance that their analysis said would help them win games. Coach Nelson learned that like him, some of his athletes were type 2 diabetics.  The Coach’s reflection only deepened his belief that this is the best thing for not only the team, but also for each athlete’s well-being.

One of the 13 athletes who lost weight was Teddy Leonard.  Teddy accepted the challenge with open arms and lost more than 40 pounds or 10% of the team’s total weight loss.  Teddy said that losing weight and becoming healthier has helped his team finally beat other teams they had lost to in the past.   It’s obvious that while speaking with Teddy, he has seen tremendous value in being part of this team.  He no longer uses the word “can’t” and decided to become a listener as opposed to speaking all of the time, all while becoming a healthier athlete.

Listening obviously pays huge dividends as Teddy learned.  He and his team will head to the Republic of Korea in January to show off their newfound speed and endurance at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games.  While this is a competition and the floor hockey team is travelling to win, Coach Nelson and his team have already shown the world that they are champions in everything they do.

“Special Olympics Changed My Life”

Written by: Will Seymour

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – For as long as she can remember, figure skating has always been a part of Leslie Kelley’s life.

“I remember watching the Olympics as a little girl,” Kelley said. “I wanted to be a teacher by day and a figure skater by night. My mom always joked with me that would never happen.”

After overcoming significant challenges, Kelley is set to realize a version of that dream in January. The 28-year-old will be teaching 11 athletes as an assistant coach for Special Olympics Team USA at the 2013 World Winter Games in South Korea.

“I’m looking forward to a good experience,” Kelley said. “(I’ll) expect the unexpected.”

The mere fact the Kelley skated at all may have been unexpected by some. At age 5, she was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic disorder that in Kelley’s case manifested a noncancerous tumor on the optic nerve of her right eye.

As a result, Kelley sees only shapes and colors out of the legally blind eye.

NF1 presents challenges beyond visual impairment.

Kelley was diagnosed with learning difficulties the summer in between the sixth and seventh grades, shortly after moving to Virginia from Lemoore, Calif. She began the next school year with an individualized education plan and was removed from mainstream English classes.

After one quarter, Kelley asked to be moved back to the mainstream class because she wasn’t being challenged. The school’s administration was hesitant, but relented.

“I had my struggles, Kelley said, “but ended (up) passing the class.”

The scene was repeated in high school when Kelley opted to pursue a regular diploma rather than a certificate of attendance that was given to some other students with disabilities.

Kelley not only achieved that goal but left with an advanced placement diploma.

After two years at a community college, Kelley transferred to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where she finally received a formal diagnosis of a written expression disorder.

Kelley graduated from JMU in 2009 with a master’s degree in special education.

By that point, Kelley was already heavily involved in Special Olympics. She began competing as a Special Olympics athlete in 1999.

Kelley worked her way up to competing at Level 5, the penultimate level for Special Olympics figure skating.

Kelley started to channel her dedication for the sport into coaching in 2002, even as she continued to compete through 2004. Kelley has also served as a competition director for regional and state figure skating events for several years.

“I’m extremely proud of her,” friend and coach Angie Krumreich said. “She’s extremely dedicated and goes the extra mile.”

Kelley’s background as an athlete has a large impact on her coaching style.

“(Leslie) understands how to relate to athletes,” Krumreich said. “She’s built a reputation and is admired (by the athletes).”

Krumreich, who has been coaching Special Olympics athletes since 1986, plans to ask Kelley to take over her program once she is ready to step away.

In each of the six levels in the singles competition, athletes are scored on two different routines, one of compulsory elements and another freestyle routine.

There are different rules for the pairs and ice dancing competitions.

“They say we’ll be very, very busy while we are there,” Kelley said.

The athlete-turned-coach is willing to undertake that busy trip, not only because of a love for travel, but a love for Special Olympics, too.

“Special Olympics changed my life,” Kelley said. “Before, I was shy to the point it was painful for others. (But) the athletes welcomed me with open arms.”

Kelley credits her experiences with Special Olympics as the inspiration to pursue a career in special education.

Beyond acting as the catalyst to start teaching, Kelley’s coaching provided her with experience she can apply in the classroom.

“You learn different teaching styles,” Kelley said. “What works for one person may not work for somebody else.”

That desire to find solutions is a function of something that friends say is central to Kelley’s character: a desire to overcome and succeed.

“(Leslie’s) not one to focus on any sort of struggle, she just wants to know how to help,” said Stephanie McDermott, who works with Kelley in the Chesapeake club of the Navy Wives Club of America.

That desire to help has turned toward people with intellectual disabilities.

“She wanted to make sure other kids didn’t get those kind of limits too,” friend Kathy Stewart said.

Now, Kelley will help Special Olympics Team USA athletes at the pinnacle of Special Olympics competition, a World Games.

Even after the Games come to a close, Kelley will continue to help make skaters’ dreams come true.

“I wouldn’t give it up,” Kelley said. “I owe Special Olympics more that I can ever repay.”

Spokane Valley Woman Heads to 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games

Courtesy of The Spokane Review

Written by: Kaitlin Gillespie

Spokane Valley’s Heather Comer has done something many have not: stood proud on a center podium, accepting a gold medal, qualifying for the Olympics.

She’s also had to overcome something many athletes have not: Down syndrome.

Later this month, 29-year-old Comer and her family will travel to the Special Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where she will compete in three Alpine skiing events: slalom, giant slalom and downhill.

“It just feels awesome,” said Comer, a wide grin on her face.

The Special Olympics was launched in 1968 to combat negative stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities. About 1,000 people from 26 U.S. states and Canada competed in those first games. This year, 3,300 people will compete in the world games.

Worldwide, however, 3.7 million athletes from more than 170 countries participate in Special Olympics activities.

Comer’s love of the slopes began about 15 years ago, when she joined Spokane Parks and Recreation’s Therapeutic Recreation Services program, which offers activities for the disabled in the community. Comer found a home with the Powderhounds, a ski team for the intellectually disabled.

“It’s a great way to connect with friends,” she said.

Now, Comer’s family says she can easily keep up with her coaches and family members, all of whom are avid skiers.

But beyond skiing, participating in Powderhounds and the TRS program offers the disabled the opportunity to gain life skills, independence and confidence, team coach Roger Schramm said. In some cases, the students’ skills surpass those of their instructors, he said.

“They get confidence out of it,” Schramm said. “They gain the ability to be away from their family or group homes. They get an opportunity to do something they don’t normally.”

Comer’s mother, Joanne Comer, said she has watched her daughter grow both physically and emotionally as a result of the program and Special Olympics, saying her daughter is an inspiration to other people with Down syndrome in the community.

“It really gives folks like Heather the opportunity to participate in a sport with their friends and family members, different volunteers and different people from the community that participate in the program,” she said.

Heather Comer’s personal coach, Joanie Sloan, said the program has helped Comer mature and become independent. Sloan, whose own son has Down syndrome, said Comer is a leader on the team and helps other students when they need it, pushing and motivating her friends on the mountain.

“She kind of does it all pretty much on her own as far as the competing,” Sloan said. “As good as she is, she could probably be a coach.”

Despite her skills, Sloan said Comer knows what it’s like to fail, and she knows she can’t always be the best. But that doesn’t bother her, Sloan said. The purpose of the program is not to win but to have fun.

“I think if she didn’t win a gold medal she’d be happy,” Sloan said. “She’s very motivated and driven and she’s just very great to be around and has a great personality. I think she’s going to do good if she has a lot of fun and just goes for it.”

And Heather Comer agrees. For her, going to South Korea isn’t all about winning gold medals or racing as fast as she can. For now, the athlete is more interested in making new friends, doing what she loves and, most importantly, having fun.

“That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “Fun.”

Meet Theodore “Teddy” Leonard

Not only had Teddy Leonard never made a snowman, he had never actually seen snow. The 29 year old recently traveled from his hometown of Moreno Valley, CA to Lake Placid, New York, and Teddy was in for a whole lot of new experiences.  He came here with his fellow Special Olympics Southern California teammates for Special Olympics Team USA Training Camp for his sport, Floor Hockey. Teddy, along with the rest of team, will be traveling to the Republic of Korea at the end of January 2013 to compete in the Special Olympics World Winter Games.  This trip to Lake Placid is the first time Teddy had ever been on a plane and traveling to the Republic of Korea will be his first trip out of the country.

But for Teddy it wasn’t easy to get to training camp. He and the rest of his Floor Hockey team have lost a combined weight of more than 400 pounds and as an individual, Teddy has lost more than 40 pounds.  Training in the gym, eating healthier and giving up soda have all contributed to his magnificent accomplishment. This change also helped Teddy and his team to finally beat other teams they had lost to in the past.

Teddy has learned many other things from competing in Floor Hockey over the past ten years. He says he’s stopped using the word “can’t” and has decided to become a listener, both lessons he has learned from his parents, who play a huge role in his life. He says his father helped him to understand why it is important to listen and he now prides himself on being a good listener. But he wasn’t always this way. He would constantly talk back to his coaches and parents but realized it was not getting him very far. Being a part of his Floor Hockey team has showed him how much he can learn by taking in information.

Teddy is exciting to travel to the Republic of Korea so that he can learn a different language and experience a new culture. Since he has never traveled outside of the country, he says he likes the security of traveling with his team and coaches.

World Winter Games Athlete Meets Republic of Korea Ambassador

Courtesy of Special Olympics Illinois

Nathan Warren of Princeton loves meeting new people and trying new foods, according to his local coach, Phyllis Fargher.  That will serve him well when he travels to the Republic of Korea this winter to compete in snowshoeing as part of Special Olympics Team USA in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

His introduction to the Republic of Korea began at the end of September when he had the opportunity to meet the new Korean Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Choi Young-jin.  The Ambassador was the keynote speaker at a Chicago Council on Global Affairs luncheon that Nathan attended in Chicago along with Fargher, Special Olympics Illinois Starved Rock  Area Director Cheryl DePaepe and Sheila Devine of Special Olympics Illinois.  Nathan was thrilled that the Ambassador took time to greet him after the luncheon and wish him well at the World Games.

Nathan says World Games is the opportunity of a lifetime and he can’t wait to compete.  He has trained and competed in Special Olympics for the last 15 years through Gateway Services in basketball, bowling and athletics, as well as snowshoeing. He enjoys working hard and feeling important and appreciated as an athlete.   His dad, Randy Warren, said: “Special Olympics is the best thing that ever happened to Nathan because it give him a sense of pride and belonging. The competition makes him strive to be better.”

He has been employed at Cornbelt Energy as a janitor for the last five years.  Nathan will be concentrating on getting into condition for World Games and building up his endurance with more walking. He’ll try to replace his favorite soda with more water, even though that will be tough for him.  His mom, Cindy Warren, is hoping to travel to Korea to see Nathan compete at the World Games.

Meet “The Legend” from New Hampshire

The Laconia Daily Sun

Written by: Adam Drapcho

LACONIA — Some say it’s better to be lucky than to be good. Mark Lagueux has the benefit of both attributes, though, and he needed them both to be selected to represent New Hampshire and the United States at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games, to be held January 29 through February 5 in the mountainous South Korean city of Pyeongchang.

Lagueux, 18 years old and a 12th grader at Laconia High School, will compete in the sport of alpine skiing. He earned the opportunity to represent his country by winning a gold medal in a Special Olympics competition held earlier this year at Waterville Valley. Through a lottery system, New Hampshire Special Olympics selects two of its athletes, drawing from among all those who won a gold medal, to participate in the World Winter Games. In this way — by being both excellent and fortunate — Lagueux was picked as a member of the U.S. Special Olympics team. He’ll be joined by New Hampshire’s other athlete, Laura Lemieux of Berlin, who will also compete in the alpine skiing events. Other events at the games will include cross-country skiing, figure skating, speed skating and snowboarding.

It was about three months ago that Lagueux heard that he was South Korea-bound. “It felt awesome,” he recalled. The feeling hasn’t worn out, either. “Amazing, this is part of my lifetime right now.”

When he was a year and a half old, Lagueux was involved in an automotive accident. He suffered brain damage from the event, which today results in developmental disabilities and a palsied right hand. It hasn’t dimmed his smile or friendliness, though, nor his eagerness to try new things and meet new people.

At LHS, Lagueux has joined the integrated soccer and basketball sports teams. He was also a member of the Winnipesaukee Warriors, a Special Olympics team focused on summer events. Through that team, he was encouraged two years ago to join the Gunstock Special Olympics Team, where he found a team of volunteer coaches to help develop his skills and talents.
There, on the slopes of Gunstock, Lagueux earned the nickname “The Legend.”

In his view, his downill prowess is built on his ability to control his speed — dialing in as much velocity as he could handle without losing control. When racing, he said, he asks himself, “Do I need more speed or not? I use my speed to keep me in the game.”
Darrin Hardy, one of his volunteer coaches, recalled that Lagueux had to be coaxed to go faster when he was a novice skier. Now, though, “The Legend” Legueux is compelled by the desire to see how fast he can go without  leaving his skis. “It is a challenge,” he said about skiing, adding that he isn’t discouraged by his tumbles. “If I get up, I can try again.”

Whether it’s his mother, teammates or coaches, Lagueux has had the good fortune of supportive people around him. Now, about to embark on a great adventure, he has more support than ever. Last week, Piche’s Ski and Sports donated an assortment of equipment to the effort, including skis, poles, helmet and clothing, totalling about $1,600. Pat Bolduc, one of the store’s co-owners, said the donation was an “easy decision, glad to do it. He’s a great kid, he’s worked hard. This is a real big deal to do what he has in two years.”

To help pay for incidental expenses during his trip to the World Winter Games, his friends and family will be hosting a fund raising dinner and dance. Held on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the VFW Post on Court Street in Laconia, the event will feature a live band and catering by Kitchen Cravings. Attendants will be asked to donate $10 at the door.

Next month, Lagueux and other members of the Special Olympics Team USA will travel to Lake Placid, N.Y. for a training camp. Then, in January, he and the rest of the team will head to Pyeongchang, where more than 3,300 athletes from around the world will celebrate the spirit of competition and sportsmanship.

“Whatever I have — gold, silver, bronze medals — I will still have fun and support the teams when I get back,” Lagueux said, adding that he hopes to “enjoy life, have a good time and meet new friends in South Korea.”

Finding Success On and Off the Ice

For Rory, competing in his first World Games is proof of all he’s achieved through hard work and determination. When his moment in the spotlight comes, he’ll dedicate his performance to the man who inspired him.


Special Olympics athlete Rory Kinane is practicing hard in preparation for the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in PyeongChang.

Falling Down Is About Getting Back Up

People who see 16-year-old Rory Kinane at the skating rink think he’s a natural on the ice — but it didn’t start out that way. His coach remembers how Rory would try to run on the ice, like he was running a regular road race. There were slips and falls, but Rory didn’t give up. He’d practice and practice — until he got it right. Now he pushes on the ice, glides and gets some serious speed behind him. “Rory likes to go fast,” says coach Tappie Dellinger. And that’s a good thing, because that speed and dedication have gotten Rory a spot on Special Olympics’ Team USA for the upcoming World Winter Games. In a few months, he’ll be racing against athletes from all around the world in PyeongChang, South Korea. It’ll be Rory’s first Special Olympics World Games competition and he says he’s “pretty excited.”

Rory’s intellectual disability can make it hard for him to accomplish some things. He learns differently than some people; sometimes it takes him a little longer to figure things out. But Special Olympics has helped him learn discipline and find success, which has also been helping him off the ice. “The skills that he’s learned on the ice help him function in the outside world,” says Tappie, who’s been coaching Rory for 8 years. “He’s been gaining confidence, and an ability to adapt to different situations. Rory realizes the Special Olympics oath and is always ‘brave in the attempt.’ ” Rory has been doing better in his studies and recently received a “most improved” award at school, among other honors.

A Shining Light

It was Rory’s dad – a former high school hockey player — who got him involved in Special Olympics. Father and son were close hockey buddies and did everything together, including working on cars and watching NHL hockey games. Rory’s father passed away just over a year ago and the loss has hit Rory hard.

Rory’s older brother, Zach, is also a Special Olympics athlete and their mom says the program has been a real blessing during this difficult year. “They’ve been distracted in a positive way, gaining skills and self-confidence,” says their mom, Stephany Kinane. “It also keeps them busy – there’s so much going on!” Now a single parent of two children with disabilities, Stephany says Special Olympics has also been a comfort to her, knowing that Rory and Zach are among friends and doing something they love.

Rory has been especially motivated since finding out he’ll be competing at World Winter Games in PyeongChang. The teen knows he’ll be up against older and more experienced skaters, but that just makes him want to practice even more. “I know how much he misses his dad, so this has been a great way to channel his energy,” says Stephany. Rory is dedicating his performance at World Winter Games to his father.

His mom says, “Rory was inspired by his dad in so many things. But with all that Rory has been doing, all his hard work and dedication, he’s really inspiring us.”

Henry’s Journey

Henry Meece is a gifted athlete from Oregon who displays a ton of energy. Although he has no siblings, his mom Nancy Newell said Henry is so active it’s like having five kids.

Henry started snowboarding on the Grant High School team in Portland, Oregon when he was 19. After graduating from high school, he started snowboarding in Special Olympics. He enjoys the camaraderie and friendships. Now, at age 22, Henry is preparing to compete as part of Special Olympics Team USA at the Special Olympics 2013 World Winter Games in Korea.

Henry’s mother said, “He is so excited, he has told everyone.”

While Henry is excited to meet Korean people, experience the culture, and compete on the world stage he holds out hope for something even more meaningful. Henry would like to meet the foster family who cared for him at the beginning of his journey.

His mom said, “He has wanted to go back for the last five years. We told him one day it would be the right time. When he was selected for the World Winter Games in Korea we were totally blown away. I thought it was a joke and I wanted to see it in writing.”

That’s because Henry was born in Korean in 1989. Due to complications from a difficult birth, he remained hospitalized for two to three months. His mom says it took six months to get the medical clearance and proper paperwork needed to adopt Henry. Things were different then. Everything was hand typed and sent thought the mail. She said the wait made the process seem like a pregnancy.

Nancy and her husband Ted Meece couldn’t have children. Nancy’s sister-in-law was adopted from Korea in the mid-1950s so Nancy and Ted decided on an international adoption. Although they chose the nationality of their baby, they didn’t make any other choices. “I didn’t really feel like I could check a box that I didn’t want this kind of baby or that kind or didn’t want a child with a disability. You don’t choose when you are pregnant so why would you choose when you adopt?”

In March of 1990, when Henry was six months old, Nancy and her husband got a phone call on a Friday.  One week later, Henry arrived at the airport with only his outfit, a Korean towel around his neck, and a pacifier.

“For me to get a baby off a plane, I thought now what am I going to do? He was an infant but not like an infant because he weighed 18 pounds. He didn‘t even fit into his car seat,” his mom said.

Nancy says she was emotionally prepared but was not as prepared for the amount of energy it takes to raise a child with disabilities. She stayed home with Henry full time the first four years. She says the most important thing she has ever done was be a parent to Henry.

Nancy and Ted plan to travel to Korea to watch him compete. It will be their first time to Korea.

“For me, this opportunity comes at a really good time because Henry has a difficult time accepting his disability. It is amazing for him to have this honor that he would not have without his disability. It’s a big deal. A lot of people don’t understand that most people with disabilities know they have them and don’t like being disabled. For Henry to receive an opportunity and honor to do something this exciting might make the acceptance easier. At age 22 you see people driving, going to college, having families, etc. Everyone has to determine what is right for them, but if you know your list is shorter, it is not an easy acceptance.”

Despite the differences and challenges, Nancy says Henry has had the perfect upbringing, with the exception of not having any siblings. She says Henry’s involvement in Special Olympics and the support is so important, “That my son can participate in an athletic event and I don’t have to talk about the disability before he does it is so important. It feels good that he can go somewhere and we don’t have to write a three page paper about his disability. Special Olympics is a banner athletes can be proud of. It gives the community a sense of pride for supporting it. It puts a positive face on disabilities.”

Henry is not only an accomplished athlete. He just finished a one year certificate in culinary assistant training at Portland Community College and is working with a job developer.

Now, 22 years after traveling half way around the world as an infant, Henry is preparing to travel back to his birth country of Korea. As his mom reflected back to that day at the airport she said, “I can’t imagine living without him. I feel like whoever matched me up knew something. For me, it has been a perfect match. I am high energy and he is high energy. I can’t imagine anything different.”

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