A Mother's Story

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Photo credit: Special Olympics Italia

My name is Astrid Moritz. I am Sebastian Palmeri's mother, and I feel like the mother of a rock star. My son was born a real winner, and this has only happened since we found out about Special Olympics. Before this, people labelled him as "just the disabled son" -- now, he is the guy who wins a lot of medals for his achievements in sports with Special Olympics Italia. He is the one whose photo can now be seen in newspapers and people say ,"I saw him on TV," "Look, that's Sebastian," "I know him."

I want to share my story -- a mother's story.

When Sebastian finished high school, his father and I found ourselves alone and isolated right after graduation. During his school days, as a family we were supported by psychologists, neuro-psychiatrists and public health carers, but once he left the school system, we were solely responsible for Sebastian. I had to organize his life; he was a young man of 20 and wanting to live his life like any other young person, but the doors of entertainment and sports were closed to him... he was too old... he was too young... too slow... too different -- no one wanted him.

One day, I read a short advertisement in the newspaper il Messaggero: "Rowing for people with intellectual disabilities with Special Olympics." I thought, rowing on the river? Special Olympics? I don't know what this is.

I called the phone number and made an appointment. We were welcomed with an open smile by Paolo Ramoni, the Special Olympics National technical coordinator for rowing. Later, I learned that all of those involved in Special Olympics have that kind of smile! That day changed our lives.

Our adventure with Special Olympics began, and since then, we have been floating. I think that a person with an intellectual disability loses the opportunity to have positive emotions if they don't take part in a Special Olympics event, even once in their life. Special Olympics makes you discover a part of you that you never knew existed. This movement makes you feel joy and pure serenity in your soul; you are not alone anymore, and this is true for the athletes, their parents, coaches and volunteers who, each one in his own way, join in the great smile that only Special Olympics can give.

Since that first day at Special Olympics, we have been living a wonderful life. No more chasing after "normalcy." No more trying to keep up with it. No more living isolated and in solitude. My son is no longer the "disabled son" taking part in sports. Sebastian is an athlete. He is part of a team of athletes, coaches and volunteers. To hear him shout words of support for his team "Tevere Remo" is pure joy.

Watching him as he takes the bus to leave alone for an away game, hearing him say: "I'm afraid," but when I tell him that he can stay at home and not compete he says, "But I want to compete. I want to be part of my team. I want to win. I want to make my coach proud of me. I want you to be proud of me, but I'm afraid."

That is pure joy, and it is fantastic to hear as a mother. My son was never invited to birthday parties, and he was completely without a social life. Now, in Special Olympics, he is an athlete and he is respected for this. He has dozens of friends and he is valued as an athlete, always celebrated as a champion without caring for scores or results. I see Sebastian as an athlete just like Massi Rosolino (Italian Olympic Swimmer). There is no difference. Rosolino is just a bit stronger than Sebastian, but they are at the same level as both give their maximum in training and competitions.

I'd like to end my story by quoting Sebastian's words after winning a medal at the Special Olympics Italia National Games -- "Mummy, what a warm feeling I felt on the podium." Thank you to Special Olympics Italy. Thank you to Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and thank you Sebastian for making me, your family and your country so proud.

This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Special Olympics for the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, which takes place on December 3.