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Sharing Special Olympics with a new generation of fans

I have been so blessed to be a part of Special Olympics Missouri in many different ways.  I have been a volunteer, a coach, a member of the Games Management Team, a fan and a friend.  But I think the best way I have ever been involved is as a teacher.  I am a special education teacher in Springfield, Missouri, and I have had the wonderful opportunity to take my entire school to cheer on the amazing athletes at the State Summer Games.  To see how excited the students from my school were about going to Special Olympics is something I will never forget.  For two years, we were able to take about 150 students to cheer on the athletes as they competed in track and field events.  A lot of the students at my school did not have a lot of knowledge of Special Olympics.  I have one student, Madison, who has participated in the track events at the summer games since she was eight years old.  The students had listened to her share her stories of the games and saw her medals, but they did not quite understand how inspiring these athletes can be until they experienced it first hand.

So in May 2010, our school attended our first Summer Games, which was held at Missouri State University.  To say that I was touched by the way the students from my school interacted with the athletes and cheered them to victory would be a huge understatement.  I was surprised by how vocal and involved the kids were.  They cheered from the moment we got there until we left, and they made sure that all the athletes knew we were proud of them.  Many of the athletes came over after their event to talk to our students.  Everyone was so excited and accepting of each other.  The best moment of the day came at about 1:30 when our Madison was competing in the softball throw.  Our group was so loud and we could all see Madison beaming at us from the field.  She was so excited to share something that she was amazing at with everyone at her school.  She ended up getting a silver medal in the event and got to show off her medals to all of her friends and classmates.

Special Olympics has such a special place in my heart, and I love that I got to share the experience and plant a seed of acceptance and love in the students at my school.  I see their incredible acceptance and love of my students every day.  The lessons they learned by going to Special Olympics will stay with them long after they leave our school.

Katie Burrows is a volunteer and teacher in Springfield, Mo.