As parents of children with Down syndrome, we find ourselves rallying behind the athletes competing in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. We're proud of those athletes! We know they've worked hard for this. It makes us dream of the future of our own children. And it also reminds us of how far we've come... and how far we have to go.
We dream of the day the World Special Olympics receives the same attention as the regular Olympics. The Special Olympic athletes most certainly deserve that same recognition. They have undoubtedly worked just as hard. In fact, we would argue they have worked even harder.
The International Down Syndrome Coalition advocates for individuals with Down syndrome. We support individuals with Down syndrome while also supporting their families. We celebrate the successes. We mourn the losses.
Olympic athletes train their entire lives. They devote every spare moment to their sport. For the Special Olympic athlete, we think it's fair to say that nothing comes easily. Just living in a typical world is an Olympic feat.
Imagine, if you will, the grit and determination of these Special Olympians. Many of them have spent a lifetime hearing they can't, they aren't good enough, they never will. Many times they were not allowed to play on regular sports teams in their high schools. They weren't allowed in many leagues. They were demeaned and lessened.
But they have a determined spirit that is unwavering. In the face of "no," they say, "yes!" They say, "Give me a chance! Let me try! I'll show you!"
For the next few days, more than 2,300 Special Olympic athletes will get their day in the sun. They get to show their stuff and compete against the top competitors in the world. They will compete in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, hockey, speed skating and more.
These athletes found the time to train to be the best of the best, while knowing they will never be a household name like other Olympic champions. These athletes used their ingenuity and trained in sand when snow was not available. They are taking themselves way outside of their comfort zone for this once in a lifetime opportunity.
And this is an important point. With these athletes, you will see sportsmanship in its most pure form. You won't hear rumors of doping. There isn't unfair competition. What you will see is athletes trying their very best, and celebrating the win. You will see athletes genuinely happy for one another.
The International Down Syndrome Coalition works every day for individuals with intellectual disabilities to be included, to be given a chance, to be supported and to shine.
The Special Olympics World Games exemplify this. It is the culmination of years of work from advocacy groups and years of training and hard work from the athletes.
And we, at the International Down Syndrome Coalition, will be behind the scenes, cheering like mad for the athletes, celebrating their successes and mourning their losses.