My coach, a couple of my teammates and I coach the local Special Olympics Powerlifting Team. I love it. Someone asked if I could write a post on my experiences with them. This post will] let you get to know a little bit more about me and my experiences growing up leading up to my volunteerism with my athletes and teammates.
You may have read or heard at some point that my father and grandparents were disabled. My grandmother had multiple sclerosis, my grandfather had a lot of heart problems and diabetes, and my father had a myriad of health issues; the stroke being probably the worst malady of them all.
We spent a lot of time going to the Loma Linda VA hospital as both my grandpa and dad were veterans and we were all beneficiaries. My mom had told me a while ago that other people were concerned with my brother and I going. That we may get “scared” or whatever. Honestly, I have no recollection of having any reservations being in that hospital. I remember seeing people missing limbs, wearing eye patches, having IVs, mental problems, etc. Obviously, going to the VA for regular check ups is one thing and going there because your grandpa had another heart attack, dad has kidney failure, or grandma is getting diagnosed with cancer, are completely different things but mostly, I have memories of going on a “trip.” My brother and I liked to feed the ducks and play outside We looked forward to the donut cart and getting our family coffee. We liked shopping in their store and my grandpa would always get our favorite snack, “peanut bars.” Before we left, the VA was nice and gave people some gas money to go home and my dad would always ask for $2 bills to give me and my brother one. They were so cool.
One of the things I learned growing was there is no such thing as “I can’t.” I don’t really remember not being able to do things because of my family. My dad never said he couldn’t do something. I never really thought he couldn’t do some things. We went on lots of road trips, we camped a lot, we did pretty much everything. Obviously, my parents had adjusted things so we could still have fun, explore, and learn without feeling like “man, I wish I could do that.” That’s brilliant parenting.
Some other things I learned were: patience, accommodation, adaptation, and manners. We may not see that pushing our chairs in, having to step into a store, going through tight spaces are a challenge. When you’re in a chair or pushing someone in one however, it can get pretty irritating. Not being able to go into a store because it’s not accessible to you is frustrating. I remember my dad sitting outside while we went into shops to look around and feeling bad because my dad couldn’t see cool stuff. Sometimes I still refuse to give these places my patronage Going through a restaurant or a store can seem like an obstacle course when n people aren’t diligent or polite enough to push in their chairs or put things away. Often times, you’ll see me push chairs in or pick things up and put them away. I learned not to stare, always be nice to people, be friends with anyone no matter what, and stand up for those who can’t defend themselves.
My dad had a stroke when I was 11 and it was a difficult thing for us all to acclimate to. My dad lost his ability to speak and understand a lot. He had a condition called, “Aphasia.” He called my mom, “mom” and my brother and I were both “boy.” When he would want me to do something, he would say, “Come on boy!” and when he would talk about how long it would take us to do something when he was frustrated or just counting he was only able to say, “One, two, three, eight, nine, ten.” He tried to learn sign language and that didn’t work. My dad was fluent in Spanish and I tried so speak to him in Spanish one day. “Como estando?” He said, “Muy Bien.” I was so excited I told my mom and I tried it again thinking all we needed to do was talk to him in Spanish but, it was a one time deal. One time he came close to saying my name by calling me “Sherry” but I wasn’t there to hear it. As you can imagine, with a vocabulary that limited, it is hard to communicate. Sometimes we would just have to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you want.” and have the feel defeated. Having to communicate with one word written sentences, charades, guessing, and rephrasing, really taught me how to communicate with people how to explain things in different ways for them to understand.
When I rejoined Girl Scouts my new troop leader Susan was blind. It was amazing learning under her about scouting and life. I learned a lot about how she adapted to life and did a lot of things. We also went to school together at the community college and I tutored her in Spanish. There’s an age gap obviously but, she’s one of my best friends. One of her friends Dale, who was also blind, had dialysis the same nights as my dad. My mom and I were the only people that came into the dialysis room with all of the patients. Most of the caregivers or family members either dropped them off or sat in the waiting room. I never really understood why you wouldn’t hang out but, whatever. I learned a lot about the dialysis process, talked to a lot of the patients, and studied history with Dale.
In high school, I was a teacher’s aide for one of the special education classes, and I loved it. I mostly sat next to Angelica and I helped her learn to count her numbers and did whatever was asked of me. Outside of class, I had a couple of special needs friends Adrian and Julia. My mom reminded me recently of a couple stories from school. Julia was supposed to graduate but, at the last minute was told she couldn’t. She really wanted to take her graduating photos but now couldn’t get a cap and gown so I gave her mine. She was super pumped to take her pictures. One of our field trips in school was to go to Knott’s Berry Farm. We all had our groups or “cliques” we were with. At one point, I saw Adrian all by herself in the park. Her group had just left her there all by herself. So Adrian and I spent the day together going on rides and having fun. My mom told a reporter these stories because she was proud of those decisions I made. I had forgotten I even did those things. I thought I would feel bad about forgetting but, I think that’s ok. I think being a good friend is something that you should do unconsciously.
That’s a general background of the experiences I had growing up with people with various special needs. This all had led up to where I am today working with people with physical and mental disabilities. My next post will be about our Powerlifting team and teaching kids how to ride their bikes. Stay tuned!