By Tea Hill
“Special Olympics is about transforming lives, including your own.” Little did I know just how true that phrase was before my experiences with this organization. My passion for Special Olympics sparked when I was in seventh grade. I remember watching my sister as a unified partner at the state basketball games in Yankton. They stopped the clock towards the very end of one game so an athlete could make a basket. At the time, I didn’t quite understand why. What were they doing stopping the clock? Isn’t the other team going to be upset?
Since that game, I learned a lot about why they stopped that clock and why the other team was so understanding. Special Olympics is such a unique organization that focuses on making every single athlete feel special and accepted.
Soon after I started volunteering I realized that these incredibly special people stole my heart. I witnessed first hand what these athletes were like. They laughed, loved, and cared more deeply than I ever thought humanly possible. So genuine. I thought I would be helping the athletes, and doing them a favor, but little did I know that I would learn life’s most important lessons through them.
I learned to see the best in others.
I learned to accept others without passing judgement.
I learned to laugh at myself.
I learned patience.
I learned to enjoy the simple things.
Although Special Olympics is built around competition, the athletes aren’t concerned with the scoreboard as much as they are with creating lasting friendships and memories. Some of my favorite memories come from being a unified partner. Last year I was watching a basketball game at the state tournament. A shorter athlete had a difficult time shooting the ball high enough up in the air, so a unified partner from the other team lifted him up to score. Everyone started cheering from both teams- it was an incredible experience to witness.
The relationships I built while volunteering for Special Olympics and being a unified partner will always be ones I will cherish. Some of my favorite memories come from all the Special Olympics dances. I remember meeting an athlete named Levi one minute and the next singing “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” at the top of our lungs while he played his air guitar. It was moments like those where I was so grateful to be part of such a wonderful organization.
It’s amazing watching the athletes getting up on the podium to receive their ribbon. It doesn’t matter what place they got, they still are beaming with excitement. They have this enthusiasm and love for life that is so refreshing- something everyone needs.
Special Olympics involved late nights of playing Jenga in the hotel lobby, long car rides filled with junk food and laughter, and endless teasing and joking (Always out of love, of course).
My absolute favorite experience with Special Olympics is watching the athletes after they bowl a strike, make a basket, or win a race. The excitement on their face reminds me why I do what I do. The high fives, cheers, and hugs afterwards are incomparable to anything else.The enthusiasm is contagious and I love being amidst all of the excitement, encouragement, and love.
I’m the happiest when I’m at Special Olympics.
A little about Tea: