I am lucky to hear many stories from Special Olympics athletes and their families who get the chance to fulfill their dreams. Each of those stories is inspiring in its’ own way. Today however, I find myself especially uplifted by a different type of story – one of disappointment in a dream deferred.
Enter Heather & Delaney O’Connell.
The email below was forwarded to me by the leader of our Special Olympics New Jersey program, Marc Edenzon. It is from a mom, Heather, expressing gratitude to Marc and the Special Olympics New Jersey family for the happiness her 11 year-old daughter, Delaney, has found as an athlete. Unfortunately Delaney did not realize her dream of being selected to compete at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games that will be held in New Jersey, yet they promise to bravely persevere despite this setback.
Delaney and her family are the embodiment of the Special Olympics spirit – grit, perseverance, acceptance, resilience. The lessons found in, and taught from, that spirit are, for me, the most important of all. We are all lucky to have amazing teachers like Delaney and Heather.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The email below is edited only for clarity, not substance, of content. To get to know a little more about Delaney, click here.
Delaney had worked very hard to gain the independent skills she needed to try out for the 2014 Special Olympics USA National Games. We made certain goals for her to meet to accept the invitational letter to tryouts in August. I had no idea that she really grasped the whole process and the idea of what going to Nationals meant until this last week and today.
She wrote that one of her three hopes and dreams for the school year was to make Nationals. This was in school and all on her own.
Today when the envelope was waiting for her and she opened it, she asked me to read it.
When we realized she had not been picked, she cried and then sobbed and then decided she was too angry to talk. We talked about how great she did making it to the finals and that in the end it is all luck on whether your name gets picked from the pool of qualifying athletes. I reassured her that she had done everything she needed to do to get to that point, even when her health presented challenges that most kids wouldn’t have been able to keep going through. We also talked about the fact that she can try out in four more years. (Not what an 11 year-old wanted to hear.)
At bedtime, she told me she wants to take someone else’s spot if they can’t go.
I think this has been a great process to go through. I had no idea she was able to fully comprehend the scope of what she was trying out for. It provided my child with the necessary drive to attain a certain level of independence. She is very proud to be a Special Olympics New Jersey (SONJ) athlete. So much of her short life is about SONJ. It is where her heart and drive are. SONJ plays a huge role in our lives at our home.
Please continue to need her and use her for things when National team athletes are not needed. We are always there for SONJ! Our goal is for her to one day be a global messenger and be able to advocate for others the way she is already doing for herself.
Thank you for all the opportunities SONJ gives Delaney, myself, and our family. Although we are very sad today, we still love SONJ.
- Heather O’Connell