My name is Cindy, and I’m an intern for Special Olympics North America Unified Champion Schools. After briefly living in El Salvador as a kid, my family moved to Washington, D.C. Once I was able to, I joined the military and got to experience living in all sorts of locations, which in turn, exposed me to a greater variety of people. One common thread that I noticed living in various places is that there is always a need for more public education regarding the treatment and inclusion of those with intellectual disabilities. Eventually, I decided to become a graphic designer, but I never imagined my career choice would give me the opportunity to create work that directly relates to satisfying this need.
One of the projects I’ve had the pleasure of working on is a weekly feature called Special Olympics Youth of the Week. The purpose is to celebrate the achievements of exceptional youth leaders, athletes and partners who have made extraordinary contributions to the promotion of unity and inclusion in their communities. While doing research on potential candidates, I came across the story of Dustin Edmondson. I am a mother of a boy who has had medical needs since he was born, so when I learned Dustin suffered two strokes as a baby which caused cerebral palsy, I had a very strong reaction to his story. Despite being told he may never walk or talk, Dustin’s drive and determination has pushed him to excel as a Unified Sports athlete and, additionally, as a community leader teaching others about why it is important to support Special Olympics. Dustin has been involved with the organization for about 9 years in many different capacities including athlete, Global Messenger and LETR athlete Ambassador. Dustin serves as an inspiration to many boys and girls out there, like my own son, that they can also achieve what they set their minds to despite any obstacles they may face along the way. I feel honored to be able to feature Dustin this week, and below you may read his story in his own words.
Dustin’s response to being selected as a Special Olympics Youth of the Week:
“Finding out about this award makes me feel excited and proud of all the hard work that I have put in with Special Olympics. This is a huge honor to be awarded. It is a huge accomplishment for me. I want to keep working hard and making people proud of me because I want to make it to my next goal. Thank you so much for choosing me as Youth of the Week. I will keep working hard for Special Olympics.”
Dustin tells us about what Special Olympics means to him:
“Special Olympics is a huge part of my life. I have participated in Special Olympics since 2008 and have competed in athletics, basketball, bowling, soccer and softball. I train and compete all year long, give speeches as a Global Messenger, volunteer at Torch Run fundraisers, and serve on the Guilford/Greensboro Athlete Council. I am also an Athlete Ambassador on the North Carolina Torch Run Council and help teach others how to be accepting and inclusive of others through the Unified Champion Schools program. Boy, I am busy, but I don’t mind because Special Olympics has changed my life. It’s allowed me to try new things, meet new people and step outside my comfort zone. I love making new friends with Special Olympics athletes and volunteers from all over the world.
I have struggled with balance issues my entire life. I can’t ride a bike because of those issues. When the opportunity came up recently to try standup paddle boarding, I was very hesitant because I didn’t think I would be successful, but Special Olympics has taught me to never quit or give up, so I gave it a shot. At first, I couldn’t do it, but I kept trying throughout the entire demo clinic and eventually i was successful! I got up on the board.
I was so happy because I did something I never thought I’d ever be able to do. The lessons I’ve learned in Special Olympics helped give me the confidence to try something like paddle boarding and they will continue to help me try new things. Even something like giving a speech is a step outside my comfort zone that I am so glad I get to do.
Special Olympics has given me a home where I am accepted and appreciated for who I am. The power of Special Olympics is more than just what happens on the field: it’s about what happens in our community as a whole.
People with intellectual disabilities are often viewed as different but they’re really not! I enjoy many of the same things you all do, and we have more similarities than differences. Special Olympics teaches us all to be more inclusive, accepting, and to respect everyone for their unique abilities.
Special Olympics has given me the confidence to go out and do whatever I put my mind to.
I can think of another time where I was invited to go to the Panther’s practice stadium to play flag football with the Unified college teams. That was amazing. I played with Duke University. They accepted me for me. They made me quarterback. It was the most exciting day for me. I made new friends and got to play a sport I had never played before.”
Thank you, Dustin, for sharing your incredible story with us, and for representing all that inclusion and unity stand for. Your story is truly inspiring, and it makes my internship with Special Olympics one that I will cherish for life. I hope, when my son is old enough to understand, to be able to share your story with him. We’re proud to feature you as our Special Olympics Youth of the Week!