The following is a guest blog post by Amie Dugan, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Special Olympics Florida:
Yesterday, on the last day of competition at the Special Olympics World Summer Games Athens 2011, I watched Florida (USA) athlete Jonathan Doring compete for gold in men’s tennis singles.
I’ve known Jonathan for 17 years, here are a few things I’ve learned about him in that time: he’s 30 years old, he’s been in Special Olympics for 22 years, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, he loves playing and creating video games, he’s a certified USTA (United States Tennis Association) official, he’s incredible with math, stats and facts, he’s a Global Messenger and Athlete Leader, and he’s an outstanding athlete.
He also is a person with Fragile X Syndrome, the most common known cause of autism.
OK, so what? Why does that matter? Because yesterday, those lucky enough to be at Court 9 of the tennis venue witnessed a moment that was a lifetime in the making.
Jonathan is a very polite, kind-hearted guy, but Fragile X has kept him at an emotional distance from others. For years, Jonathan couldn’t make direct eye contact, his tactile sensitivity issues made it hard for him to wear his medals, he wouldn’t shake your hand, and interactions were always brief and pragmatic.
But over time, that has slowly changed. He’ll now shake your hand. He can look you in the eye when you talk to him (for a bit). He wears his medals (after some adjusting). His parents, Mark and Kathy say, “We truly believe that his personal success, his transformation, is due primarily to his participation in Special Olympics.”
Then came yesterday.
Jonathan won his first set, he was off his game in the second set, but then rallied back in the third, winning a dramatic tiebreaker.
The moment he won that last point, he threw his fists into the sky in victory and then collapsed flat onto the court, overwhelmed by the moment.
And then he began to cry. He began to sob…with tears of joy. This is the power of Special Olympics, watching sport manifest a moment of emotional expression and connection so powerful, the curtain of Fragile X was lifted, if ever so briefly.
As he cried, he kept apologizing to his parents and others: “I’m sorry I’m crying, I’m sorry I’m crying.” His parents reassured him that his tears of joy were perfectly OK. And then Jonathan said “I’m sorry I’m crying…it’s just that I’ve never been this happy in my whole life.”
I extended my hand to congratulate him and he gave me a hug instead. A big, big, hug.
“I’ve never been this happy in my whole life.” Jonathan won the Gold, but those few words were his personal victory. Those words were his family’s victory. That hug was a victory.
Those honest and compelling words beautifully captured everything Special Olympics represents and should be.
Great job Mark! it is wonderful to celebrate with Jonathon ! Nancy
Dear Jonathan, Congratulations on your Tremendous accomplishment! Your victory on the court in Greece wasn’t just a victory in competition,it was a victory in the game of life.It was a victory for all people with intellectual disabilities everywhere.This is the power of the Special Olympics movement-to show people what we can do,and we can do a lot! You are a living embodiment of that! I’m so proud of you! Mark Swiconek Athlete Leadership Programs Special Olympics Hernando County
Jonathan,Congratulations on your tremendous accomplishment!Your victory wasn’t just a victory on the court,it was also a victory for all people with intellectual disabilities everywhere.This is the power of the Special Olympics Movement,and you are a living embodiment of it! I’m so proud of you! Mark Swiconek,Special Olympics Hernando County
WOW – Congratulations Jonathan & family!! All of us at Special Olympics Maine applaud your accomplishments and share your joy! I’ve worked for Special Olympics Maine for over twenty years, but NEVER fail to be emotionally moved and encouraged by stories such as this. Jonathan’s life story – his struggles and his triumphs are truly what Special Olympics is all about! We are VERY proud to be part of your Special Olympics “famiy!” And thank you SO much for sharing your well written story, Amie!
Congratulations Jonathan! All of us at Special Pops Tennis (Atlanta, GA) are so happy for you and hope we will see you again at the 2011 Fall Classic in November. Then we can hear all about your wonderful accomplishment!
Special Pops Tennis
Congratulations to you, Jonathan. You are truly an inspiration.
Kudos to your loving parents, too, who have backedyou all the way!
Congratulations on your HUGE and WONDERFUL accomplishment Jonathan!
As a fellow athlete, golfer, I know how much blood, sweat, and tears you have
poured into your tennis, personal growth, and academic accomplishments.
The sacrifices have truly been worth every ounce of your energy and efforts
Keep up all your great growth and work Jonathan.
P.S. let me know when you are ready to start training for the golf olympics 🙂
P&G should spotlight mom Kathy Doring for her tenacity in giving Jonathan every opportunity to reach his potential.
Jonathan is truly an inspiring story if you know how truly far he has come. To give someone a hug unconditionally is easy for you and I but for Jonathan that is something big. This is one story that reminds all of us volunteers why we do what we do.
Kudos for a well written article Amie.
Way to go Jonathan !!!!!!!! We are ALL so very proud of you.
Mary from beading
Did you just get my crying long distance or WHAT HAPPENED!
Ever since that day, when i was looking in amazement at the fast growing crowd gathering at Raleigh Durham WSG 1999 Stadium, i have had these emotional long distance interlinking moments, when we ALL grow even more. Athletes, parents coaches and volunteers, THOSE moments matter !
Regional Clinical Advisor to SOI
Way to go Jonathan!!! I know Grandma & Grandpa are very proud of you up in Heaven, and so are we!
Uncle Tommy , Uncle Danny,,Aunt Kathy, Aunt Sharon, & Cousin Rebekah
You did it. I bet you are so gald it is over right. This why he loves tennis so much.
Such an awesome experience could not have happened to a better person than you Jonathon. You did yourself proud. Congratulations!
Jonathan, You are a very special person and a beautiful gift to us. You are an inspiration to me and to all who are priviledged and blessed to know you. We love you.
Uncle Frank, New York
I had the great joy of volunteering at the Tennis in Athens this past week at the Sports info desk and was happy to meet Jonathan briefly and watch him play. Many congratulations to him and also his family! You are truly remarkable all of you! It was wonderful to be a part of this and I can happily say that I learned so much being around all the athletes such as Jonathan and their caring coaches.
Тhank you.Good post !
We are so proud of you at the Fountains. What joy it has been to have you and your family with us every week. Congratulations on your victory. We are thrilled for you..
Judy Braslow from the Fountains.
I second that Judy! It is so great to read such an inspiring story. We truly have something special in Jonathan and in our very own Tennis Director, David Jasmine. The efforts and hard work they both put in have certainly paid off. Congratulations Jonathan!!!! We are so very proud of you 🙂
The Fountains Country Club
Great story, great game. This is why I love sports. Tennis in particular rewards those who can turn beautiful ideas into physical reality. Thanks for giving us something to celebrate Jonathan. You rock!
Congratulations Bro! All the years of hard work have paid off. You deserve all of that happiness. See you when you get back!
I too have know Joanathon for most of his Special Olympics life and his is a awe inspiring transformation story. Besides his tenacity on the tennis court Jonathon had to make some tough decisions on his road to Greece over the last 18 months. He had to choose between being a tennis official for National Games and then for World Games. Jonathon has worked hard for the last 4 years to become a USTA official. He finally made and then was chosen to officiate at National Games. His softball team had already been chosen to go to National Games and he did not want to let his team down and abandon his shortstop position and he respecfully declined. Then at the last minute after being chosen by the random draw to comepet in tennis at World Games he was chosen to be an athlete official. Because he had never been to World Games as an athlete did not want to give up that opportunity of a lifetime. Obviously for Jonathon this was truly the right decision as now he can say he was the best tennis player in the world in his division. I can see why this was the happiest moment in his life. Reading this article I too had tears of joy steraming down my face. We have seen Jonathon make such strides as an athlete leader and an athlete. What a triumph for Jonathon, his family, his home program and all of Special Olympics. We love you Jonathon! and thank you Amie for sharing!
Congratulation Jonathan!! Well done!!