The Special Olympics has been a part of my life for more than 15 years. I have been blessed and privileged to coach and play alongside truly talented athletes whose stories of determination, dedication, and devotion have inspired me, and continue to do so both personally and professionally.
I have coached or volunteered with teams in Pennsylvania, Miami, and Broward since 2002, whenever possible. I traveled to the Special Olympics World Winter Games in 2009 as part of a production crew for ESPN Star Sports. I am actually about to head to the Florida State Fall Classic tournament in Orlando, Fla. as the shortstop for a unified Special Olympics softball team.
But it’s the athletes, coaches and dedicated parents who have welcomed me into their teams and families and shared insights that have truly shaped my own journey. For them, I am grateful.
The Special Olympics is the love of a sport in its purest form. One interaction has always lingered in my mind, and despite the eight years that have come and gone since that day, the athlete’s words left a lasting impact.
We were at the World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, and the athlete expressed his excitement for being there and talked about the years of practice that went into this very moment, this great accomplishment. I asked him what motivated him to work hard at his game. He responded:
“I always wake up excited. In fact, I always leave my sneakers right next to my bed because the first thing I do in the morning is put them on and figure out a way to practice – even for a few minutes, even if just by myself. It’s a new day for me to learn something new and to become better at what I love. I work so hard because, when I’m playing to the best of my ability, I forget everything else.
“I play for myself, I play for my family and I play for my teammates. I want to show the world that if you wake up early, work hard and never give up – you can do anything. There are people who may not be as lucky as I am to get to do what they love, so it’s my responsibility to play for all of them, too.”
That’s true wisdom that can be applied to every aspect of one’s being. Sometimes when my life begins to take its toll – balancing my career, my relationships and the everyday responsibilities – I forget why I love what I do and who I work so hard for.
Then, I think about this conversation, and it breathes new life into me. I make the decision to wake up early, put on my shoes and approach the day with his same excitement and passion – to get out there, learn something new about my industry and become better than I was yesterday.