The following is a guest post from Brenda Hayes, whose granddaughter is a Special Olympics Florida athlete in St. Lucie County.
Danielle Moran Edwards is a wonderful 15 year-old young lady who also just happens to be our granddaughter. It’s been a little over a year that we have taken full custody of her. Like so many other grandparents we found ourselves with such a blessing and such a great responsibility. And even though she has multiple disabilities, this does not stop her from trying to be the best she can be… especially with all that Special Olympics Florida has to offer.
Her first introduction to Special Olympics was just last summer when she was on the track team. She did extremely well and ending up going to the State Summer Games at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney in Orlando. As important as this was being her first State competition it was really her first introduction to being independent, as she was off competing and having fun with her coaches and her teammates without her usually protective and hovering family. That experience alone was so exciting for her and so promising for us. Not to be overshadowed by that experience was the fact that she brought home gold and silver medals as well as an award for Most Inspirational Athlete, an award most coveted by her family.
From then on, there was no stopping her.
Danielle wants to do everything that Special Olympics offers. Danielle might not be aware of the multiple benefits she receives from participating in Special Olympics but her family is extremely aware. Her self-esteem has skyrocketed; her ability to practice her speech is more important to her and her social skills are improving, along with her ability to meet people of all ages who support each other as an extended family. This is all too important to her and to us.
Special Olympics Florida is where she has found her ‘I CAN DO IT’ attitude. With support from a very caring and concerned Special Olympics County Director, along with her many Special Olympics coaches, Danielle has been able to succeed in many sports.
Recently when the opportunity to try surfing through Special Olympics came up we almost didn’t let her try because we (her family) didn’t think she would succeed due to her disabilities that affect her coordination. We just didn’t think she would be successful so we dragged our feet a bit. But of course Danielle proved us wrong – she went to her first surf practice and actually stood up on the board! On that memorable day, Danielle went out into the ocean farther than she had ever been. And with instruction and support from her coaches she was up on the surfboard, feeling the spray of the ocean on her face with the Florida sun at her back. She rode a wave for the very first time in her first practice session – she was absolutely ecstatic and her family was so proud!
After that first practice session she was absolutely floating on ‘sand’ as she left Stuart Beach; she couldn’t wait to call her family back home in Virginia to tell them about her accomplishment. Needless to say, the only person who was not astonished was her biggest supporter, St. Lucie County Director Jeff Hancock, who said, “I told you she could do it… I can’t tell you how many athletes I have seen do so well in surfing, especially when their family didn’t even think it was possible for them.” This was one time I took great pride in saying I was wrong.
As you can imagine Danielle, like so many kids with disabilities, had always been passed by in school and in sports. In fact, there were no opportunities for her in sports through school. With this totally new sport – surfing – there was now something her brother and cousins had not done and probably had not even thought about trying. So because of the caring and supportive people in Special Olympics Florida who believed in her, Danielle actually became a surfer girl.
If you ever see her face it says it all. It says, “I will try and do anything. I will do my very best. And if I don’t succeed… I will be brave in the attempt.” Danielle is truly a Special Olympics Florida athlete; after trying surfing and being successful there is nothing she won’t attempt. We see this in her school endeavors as well. It might take her longer, it might be harder for her, but she will make the attempt. And we know she will also succeed in life. Why? Because of Special Olympics, with their caring personnel who have been her springboard for success, helping Danielle continue to make her way in a world that needs to rethink what kids with disabilities can do. Today, Danielle is proud to participate, proud to be a part of a very special family of committed and caring people.
Her proud grandma,