At ten weeks old, my brother almost died. He was admitted to the hospital for pneumonia. When he got sicker, they transferred him to MCV in Richmond where they discovered he was born with a hole in his heart. Four weeks later he was back in the hospital having his first open-heart surgery. After his first surgery, he had two seizures. A couple weeks later, Kevin had to have a second open-heart surgery because the patch over the hole was not big enough. After both surgeries and 41 days in the hospital Kevin went home. My parents noticed very early on that Kevin had developmental delays and he was in special needs classes starting at 2 years old. In elementary school he was diagnosed with mild mental retardation. Later on, in middle school, he was diagnosed with Autism.
While he was in middle school, one of his classmates asked him if he wanted to play Special Olympics soccer, as his dad was the coach. That is how we got started in Special Olympics. Special Olympics has been an amazing experience for our family, and, for me, it has been a very exciting and heart-warming journey. I have watched these kids grow up, and they all have amazing personalities. They are kind, caring, always happy, and just always fun to be around.
Kevin began by playing soccer in the summer. They moved to basketball in the fall, and then on to track in the spring every year. When I take Kevin to practice, I enjoy volunteering to help the kids. Special Olympics also hosts State Games twice a year in the summer after track and in the spring after basketball. I love going to this event. It is a lot of fun because different areas from all over Virginia come together to compete and come together as one. It is modeled after the original Olympics with an Opening Ceremony, and one specially-chosen athlete carries an Olympic torch and lights the cauldron to signify the opening of the games. After Opening Ceremony, there is food and a dance that the athletes look forward to every year. Another event that opens the Summer Games is the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Law enforcement agencies from all over Virginia carry the Special Olympics torch passing it from one county to another, ending at the Opening Ceremony in Richmond, VA. Locally, Kevin and his Area 11 teammates join the Stafford County Sheriff's Department to carry the torch across the Falmouth Bridge and pass it on to the City of Fredericksburg Police Department. The kids really enjoy taking turns holding the torch. My mom and I enjoy participating in this as well. The bridge doesn’t seem as long until you have to run across it!
Area 11 Special Olympics has partnered with the Stafford County Sheriff's Department to develop a program called the Star Force Cadets. This program allows children with special needs to experience some of what it is like to be a law enforcement officer, complete with police uniform. They have done things like running radar, riding in police cars, K-9 demonstrations, finger printing, SWAT demonstrations, and touring a 911 dispatch center, the FBI facility, and the HMX-1 Quantico where they keep the President's helicopter. This program is the only one like it in the country. Channel 5 and 7 News both have done stories on the program. I enjoy going with my brother to his meeting every month because it is very interesting to see and the kids always have a great time.
Every year in February, I look forward to the Polar Plunge in Virginia Beach. It is Special Olympics Virginia’s biggest fundraiser of the year. The money goes to support their program for the year. No athlete ever has to pay to play a sport, for uniforms, medals or ribbons, etc. This two-day event is a lot of fun for the athletes and for others who come out to raise money and support Special Olympics. There are vendors, live music, costume contests, and, of course, a dip in the chilly 30 degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean. This year Kevin has raised the most money in the state, so far.
At work, I am known as “Kevin’s sister.” My brother Kevin and I both work at Mountain View High School. Kevin loved going to school every day and stayed until he aged out at 22, like most special education students. After he was finished with high school, he was very fortunate that they loved him there and were willing to give him a part-time job working in the cafeteria. Kevin still loves to attend different sporting events and plays that are put on by the students. He is well-liked by all the staff at the school and is very social with them, which is an accomplishment considering his disability. I am very proud of my brother. I just started working at the high school this year in the Multiple Disabilities Special Education classroom.
Being a part of Special Olympics with my brother for approximately 13 years has been a very rewarding experience. He has made life long friends that he hangs out with outside of sports. When Kevin is asked what he likes most about Special Olympics he says “Everything! I like being with my friends and winning medals. Basketball is my favorite.” For my parents, talking with other Special Olympics parents has been helpful over the years getting advice and sharing experiences about kids with special needs. As for me, helping my brother and his friends during sports practices has inspired me to become a teacher. I want to help teach children with disabilities. I think Special Olympics is an amazing program. If you know anyone with a child with a disability, I would highly recommend that they get involved; it would be well worth it.