Today’s guest post is from Jonathan Doring. Jonathan is an accomplished athlete and he has been participating in Special Olympics for over two decades. Jonathan shares how Special Olympics transformed him from a silent little boy into a confident leader eager to give back.
In July, I returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, where I won a gold medal in men’s singles tennis. It was an honor to represent my country as a member of Team USA but to win the gold medal was truly a dream come true.
Since my return, my life has been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve been invited to speak by many different groups of supporters and corporate sponsors of Special Olympics about my experiences in Athens and how participation in Special Olympics has changed my life. Speaking to large groups of people is sometimes a bit frightening, but when I think about how far I’ve come and about what I have accomplished in my life, as a direct result of my participation in Special Olympics, I’m glad to help in any way I can.
Picture in your mind a little boy of five or six sitting alone in his room, never speaking or responding to others, obsessively lining up his toys in perfectly straight lines. A little boy who would not look you in the eye and would react inappropriately to the slightest physical touch. Well, that was me!
I was born with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic abnormality which causes a wide range of mental impairment.
Fortunately for me, when I turned eight, my mom signed me up for Special Olympics bowling. I loved it! As time passed, I signed up for whatever sport was in season, softball, speed skating, golf, tennis and swimming and have continued doing so for 22 years.
Special Olympics has taught me so much. It has instilled in me a desire to improve, to listen and to learn. I’ve learned to set realistic goals for myself and I know that if I work hard and am determined enough, I will eventually succeed. Each small success builds self confidence. Yes, Special Olympics has taught me a lot, much more than I can ever repay.
There are those who mistakenly believe that Special Olympics is little more than a weekend sporting event. Well, I can tell you, from personal experience, that Special Olympics is more, a lot more!
The lessons I learned in Special Olympics have transformed my entire life! I graduated from high school, with an academic diploma and completed an Associates Degree in Computer Science. I’ve worked with Publix Supermarkets, a corporate sponsor of Special Olympics Florida, as a cashier for the past 14 years. These are things that many people thought I could never hope accomplish.
Special Olympics has taught me that whatever I am able to do with the gifts I’ve been given, to do it with all my might! I will always strive to be the best I can be.
In my capacity as a Special Olympics Global Messenger, I’ve had the honor to meet important business people, ambassadors, a Governor, even a President. Sure, my Fragile X is still there, and I often have to remind myself to “be sociable”, look a person in the eye and that it doesn’t hurt to shake hands. Special Olympics has given me the self-confidence to press on, overcome my fears and contribute as best I can.
So, I’ve won the gold, where do I go from here? Like the rest of us, I’m not getting any younger. I wonder how long I can continue to compete physically with other Special Olympics’ athletes at the World level: believe me, the competition is tough!
One thing I can do is to give back!
I’ve started presenting a series of lectures to ESE classes at a local high school on the importance of proper diet and exercise. I volunteer at our local “Young Athletes” program and teach young children with intellectual disabilities the basic sports skills my coaches so patiently taught me. I’ve arranged to have a small amount of my weekly paycheck be sent to Special Olympics to support its local programs. It’s not a lot, but it is important.
It is important that I join the ranks of those who give so much of their time and money to Special Olympics. It is important that I now do my best to help Special Olympics continue to do what it has done for me, to transform another life.