My name is Erin and I have been a Special Olympics Colorado Athlete for almost 40 years. I have competed in just about every sport, but swimming and unified golf are my favorites.
Today, I own a farm on 37 acres, where I live independently, have a full-time job, great friends and I am happy. However, my path to happiness and self-acceptance has not been easy.
I was born in 1960 — 9 years before SOCO was founded at a time when people with intellectual disabilities were treated like we had some sort of disease. People were afraid and they would stay away.
I was told that I would never amount to much, live alone, or keep a job. I was placed in a group home which was a sad and lonely place. They would prescribe me so much medicine even though I didn’t need it. What I needed was someone to care.
In school the kids made fun of me and the teachers gave up on me. I walked the halls alone with my eyes pointed down to avoid making eye-contact and hoping that I could escape being bullied. In 5th grade I met my first and only friend in school, Shannon.
Shannon kept inviting me to come to Special Olympics swim practice. I finally joined her and my life was forever changed. Swimming was the best part of my week and the only thing I looked forward to.
Special Olympics gave me hope and a reason to keep going, when I had previously had none.
Finally, I gained enough confidence to flush my meds and leave the group home, even though I had nowhere to go. Which was a scary thing to do.
I wanted a job so badly but no one would hire me. I went to a job placement service, applied to every golf course in Denver and not only would they not hire me, they wouldn’t even listen to me.
I couldn’t even get a lawn mowing job.
But I told myself – if you want something bad enough you have to keep trying. That is what I learned from Special Olympics – keep trying because it’s going to be ok.
I finally got my job at Safeway. And then a second job at United Airlines. I worked nights at Safeway, days at United and did Special Olympics every other minute I could. The dedication I gained through Special Olympics transferred to work, where I was a loyal Safeway employee for 25 years and still work at United after 19 years.
Besides a life I can be proud of, I have gained so much from Special Olympics. Leadership, confidence, the opportunity to advocate for myself and my fellow athletes and friendship.
I no longer FEEL alone, because I am NOT alone.
Over the years, I have earned more than 100 medals, all of which I treasure. But, the most important things I have received from Special Olympics are pride and self worth!
In 2003 I was asked to write an essay about my vision for people with intellectual disabilities. The first part of my vision was for kids of all abilities to be able to learn together in school. My vision has become reality through the Unified Schools program, which is now making schools a welcoming place for students.
The second part of my vision was for individuals with intellectual disabilities to have earned the right to work in any career they choose and be accepted as people that can do the same things as anyone else.
I stand here before you today as one of those individuals. I am living proof that over 50 years, progress has been made and change is happening.
I am also here to tell you that we still have a long way to go. There are still times where people are uncomfortable around us.
I still get asked all the time where I am from because people think I have an accent. No one is trying to be mean, but it’s hard for me to say, I talk this way because I didn’t have oxygen when I was born. So I instead I say, “it’s just me.”
People still make assumptions about what us athletes can or cannot do. But we can do it all. We may do it a different way and it may not look as pretty, or be as fast but we can do it!
Every person in the world wants the same things. To have friends, to be seen, heard and loved.
My dream for the next 50 years of Special Olympics is to grow and expand our movement even faster, because it’s important and it makes a difference.