At Special Olympics Florida, our athletes train and compete 365 days a year to become their best. And in less than 100 days, more than 180 delegates from Florida will see their hard work pay off as they travel to compete at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey, an event that will host 3,500 athletes from around the nation.
One of the Florida teams making that journey is the Orange County Eagles Unified Soccer Team. This is their second time competing at National competition; their first was four years ago in 2010 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Taking the field for the first time as high school sophomores, three of their Unified Partners have remained exceptionally committed to team practices and will compete again – only this year they return as college sophomores, making the trip with 7 of their team’s original 8 athletes and partners.
So what keeps them coming back? Unified Partner Chris shares that a big reward for him is seeing personal growth; both his own and that of his teammates. Their coach, Silvia Haas, echoes his sentiment. She says, “The biggest question we get is ‘how do you push your athletes to do better?’ The answer is that we’ve never plateaued. Having Unified Partners helps this. Our athletes emulate their partners.”
When they arrive in New Jersey for the 2014 USA Games, the Orange County Eagles will be in good company as five other Unified teams from Special Olympics Florida, competing in bowling, basketball, softball, volleyball and tennis, have also earned the opportunity to play.
Inclusion is at the heart of Unified Sports – bringing together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to compete on the same team helps to breakdown stereotypes and build communities of acceptance. And when you ask a Unified Partner about their experience, chances are they’ll share that they get more out of it than they give. Orange County Eagles Unified Partner Olivia Marincov puts it best when she says, “There will never be another life experience that compares with being a part of Special Olympics. I get to watch and be part of lives being changed.”
Each athlete’s commitment to their team’s success demonstrates a theme central to Special Olympics Unified Sports® – dedication. Their team doesn’t take a break. Most weekday afternoons you’ll find athletes running drills together on their field in Orlando, or training with other teams at their local YMCA. Parker, who has been participating for 8 years, explains that they always work as a team. “We have to show others what we got – we have what it takes to be equally matched to any athlete.” Even though this is their second trip to a national-level competition, the Orange County Eagles are still excited because while competition will take center stage, there’s no question that moments of triumph, courage and friendship will steal the show.
Learn more about starting a Unified Sports® program in your community or school. You can also learn more about the athletes who will compete in the 2014 USA Games this summer by visiting www.2014SpecialOlympics.org.