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Tying Shoes, Tying Friendships

By Kaylee Schirado

My name is Kaylee Schirado, and I have been a coach for the Special Olympics Brookings delegation for the past 3 years. My experience with Special Olympics began during my sophomore year of college at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. As a part of my required coursework, I was taking EHS 150 which consisted of a lot of journaling and accumulating volunteer hours. Students were given a long list of organizations they could complete these hours through: the Boys and Girls Club, Harvest Table, and so on. Out of all of these wonderful organizations, I myself chose Brookings Special Olympics, in that I have a passion for sports and being active. Prior to this experience I have never been involved with Special O, but I did spend a lot of my free time in high school out at Handi Riders (is now called Horse Power) in Sioux Falls. Handi Riders (Horse Power) is a ranch that provides therapeutic horseback riding services to individuals with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities.

Coach Kaylee Schirado smiling and hugging two Special Olympics athletes.At first I was very unsure of how I would fit into the team’s dynamic, but sure enough Coach Suzy and Coach Jessie threw me to the wind and we all got along just fine with our shared sense of sarcasm! I soon learned just how much time Coaches Suzy and Jessie dedicate to the team and the athletes, not just in practice time but also every other day of the week. Special Olympics Brookings soon became my life 2-3 days of the week and every other weekend it seemed. Between weekly practices and weekend sporting events, the coaches and athletes became my friends and family. I’ve coached athletes in a majority of the sports seasons, but was most involved in bowling, basketball, and track & field. Some of my most cherished memories were traveling to and from weekend bowling tournaments in Sioux Falls and Mitchell, region basketball tournaments in Yankton, and the regional track meet held in Brandon each year. Although the sports events, watching my athletes compete, and winning awards were all fun, I think the best times I remember having were during our down time in between games, on the bus rides, and many hotel stays. This is when I got to spend quality time with my athletes and my fellow coaches. I got to combine two things I love dearly: caring for people, and athletics.

Each season I became closer with my Brookings Special O family, and I was given more and more opportunities to grow in my coaching abilities. I’ve spoken in classrooms on campus about my experience with Special Olympics which has encouraged other students to volunteer, I’ve participated in and volunteered for the Polar Plunge 5K and other Special O fundraisers, and in this last year I was given the privilege of attending the National Unified Bowling tournament in Reno, Nevada with a team of four coaches and four athletes to represent team South Dakota. This experience in itself was by far my favorite memory. After becoming an official Special Olympics South Dakota Unified Partner, I was paired with my partner Luke to attend the 2016 National Unified Bowling tournament. Luke and I, along with three other pairs of coaches/athletes spent 5 days competing in bowling competition along with meeting unified partners from about half of the 50 United States. We all spent lots of quality time together during competition and while out exploring Reno.

Coach Kaylee Schirado with a female Special Olympics athlete behind her about to hug her.

I will say my absolute favorite part of the trip was overcoming a huge obstacle with my partner, Luke. Long story short, Luke is most well-known for always wearing velcro shoes. His bowling shoes, however, have laces (Luke has never fully known or really desired to tie shoes). The day before competition, we arrived at the arena to have practice time. Luke and I sat down to put our shoes on, and he puts one of his feet up on my lap and grins at me (his usual routine to get me to tie his shoes for him). I said, “You know what Luke, I think that since we are here for something big, you’re going to do something big. I think its time we have a shoe tying lesson!”. After lots of disagreement, head shaking, refusals, and many trials, I had finally gotten him to tie not one but both of his shoes! As it is something most of us take for granted on a daily basis, it was such a huge accomplishment for Luke. Little moments like these are what shaped my entire experience as a Special Olympics coach. Special Olympics truly is about the people you meet, not just about the competition and awards. In many of my pictures I’ve kept over these 3 years, I can’t help but notice the smiles on my athlete’s faces. Their smiles. That is what I will remember for years to come!

Thank you, Special Olympics for shaping me into the woman I am today!

A little about Kaylee:

I attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD for four years where I recently graduated in May of 2016 and completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Family Studies. In my time at SDSU, I’ve been involved with a few different clubs and organizations on and off campus. I was involved with Lost and Found (a campus organization for awareness and prevention of suicide), Human Development and Family Studies Club, and Pre Physical/Occupational Therapy Club. I was a Community Assistant on campus for two years, and a Special Olympics coach for three years. Another organization I was very heavily involved in for 3 years was State-A-Thon. State-A-Thon is an organization (a part of nationally-known Dance Marathon) that aims to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network. I very much enjoyed my time at SDSU, but now I am on to pursue higher education. I have recently been accepted to the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota where I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Some day I hope to specialize in Pediatrics with a focus on physical disabilities!

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