Where do I start? It’s hard to put into words what the last 7 years have been to me. If I have to pick one word I’ll go with ‘Special’. Few might know the story but there were a couple months back in 2011 when I was in transition for where my career might take me. A college friend connected me with an organization called Special Olympics South Dakota. During those two months I volunteered and learned what Special Olympics was all about but most importantly, I met some new friends.
Life took me on a couple different stops for a few years after but one of those friendships held on and in 2015 I returned to Sioux Falls to join that great organization as a staff member. I must thank that friend with a great deal of gratitude for the opportunity that ensued. You know who you are. I hit the ground running and it has been a whirlwind ever since.
If you’ve worked in events you know how fast time goes. Every event has planning that is always happening and when one event finishes you are into the next stages of preparing for the next. The months come and go in a blink and the years roll over each other at a fast rate. After having kids and seeing how fast they grow I’d equate it to that. No matter how much you want the time to slow so you can soak things up a little more you can’t. Who knows, maybe that is just part of age too. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away the fact that the last several years have been full.
Amidst everything happening I’ve been trying to find some time to think back about what has transpired. I wait for the sentimental side to hit. I think of the countless events I’ve loaded up and endured with coworkers. It could be the grueling aspect of trying to make sure all ducks are in a row and the event goes on with minimal flaws or it could be the journey just to get to the event (coworkers can laugh with me here). One of my favorite parts of it all is it’s never short on something new. Every event has never been the same. As we say, “there’s always something.”
From the State Summer Games, to State Basketball, to Fall Classic, to the past State Winter Games and every area event in between the special part of my time with SOSD didn’t stop within the time with my coworkers. It goes way beyond that. The special part is the time I’ve spent with all of you through it all. By you, I mean all of you Special Olympics athletes in South Dakota. I’ve seen hundreds of you give your best competing and then dance your hearts out after whatever finish you secured that day. The amount of joy you inspired me with carried over to the many hours inside my office. You reminded me why I do what I do. I think my favorite part, however, is you showed me a way to live. It’s one that is unwavering. Some of you met me once but remember my name for life and others it’s an ability to find joy in the simplest things. The hugs, handshakes, and smiles I encountered or witnessed each time we were together is immeasurable.
There are also all the volunteers and coaches worked with. So many of you coaches I have had the pleasure of working with more than anyone else. I was that guy bugging you to get certified. It was always great to see that name on the paper and then putting the name to the face at an event. All of you volunteers are the engine that makes such a special organization happen. I can’t thank you enough for all your help and efforts to make things happens and allow the many athletes to compete. I’m blessed to have spent countless hours with you all and forging friendships around the state. Every time we’d get together at and event it was as though we didn’t skip a beat. Please know I cherish that time working and laughing together.
Now here I am pulling it all together and recollecting the memories. I think it’s hard because there are so many. A lot of it blurs together. I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. It truly shows how meaningful it has been. I’ve grew a lot through the last 7 years and that coincides with the driving force that being part of this Special Olympics family has brought. I came in learning and trying to bring what I could to help this organization be better. So many of you have pushed the envelope of your comfort zone to make great feats happen and your ability to be brave transferred to me. I’ve traveled to many parts of the globe, bought a house, and made a family during this time. I’ve also grew to understand the importance of being included. You all showed and supported me in numerous ways. I thank you all with the utmost gratitude.
One of my favorite things over the years is understanding how others can think and it may be different but that’s the beauty. That may be the most important. I added a new best friend in my coworker John. He challenged me to see things in a new light. Him and many others revealed how important it is to being advocate for inclusion. It made me see a new kind of love. If I can spread anything to anyone it would be to get to know someone like any athlete or just anyone who ticks a little differently. It’s amazing how much it can transform how you see the world. It gives you a new perspective.
That leads me to this point. I say this with the most love, gratitude, and admiration for all of you. That includes every athlete, coach, volunteer, coworker, parent and everyone in-between. It has been my pleasure to be a part of your lives for the past 7 years and who knows where the next batch leads. Some of you we’ll stay close and some we will stay in-touch through various channels. That doesn’t take away from the fact that I will miss seeing you all.
I will be turning the page on this chapter as a staff member of Special Olympics South Dakota but know that the next chapter will still be in the Special Olympics Family. My family and I will be headed for the Pacific Northwest as I embark on a new journey with Special Olympics Washington. I want you to know that it was your influence that showed me how incredibly special the movement that Special Olympics is. I’ll do my best to help Special Olympics Washington flourish and bring new opportunities to many. Thank you for all for making that possible and setting me up to continue this journey. It doesn’t take away from the special time we had together. I look forward to seeing how many of you are doing from afar. Please stay in touch and keep pushing your own comfort zones to give your best. Thank you again.