Five years ago this week, I signed up as a volunteer for the Special Olympics Kentucky State Basketball Tournament.
Next weekend, I’m going to be watching a team I coach participate in that tournament.
Four years ago, I was starting to get more involved with the organization – but hadn’t yet found my place. I also jumped in the freezing Ohio River that year for these guys and girls. Brrr.
It wasn’t long after that I met an athlete that got me where I am today with SOKY.
This is Dallas. He’s the first athlete I met/saw numerous times as I got more and more involved at Special Olympics events. He was/is EVERYWHERE. He’s kind of a big deal, you guys. Everyone knows him, everyone loves him.
It was through Dallas I then met his mom, Cathy, the head of the Louisville Royals sports delegation – who heard me mention an interest in softball and brought me on to help coach the summer of the 2015 (which you all may remember as that time in my life that everything fell apart but fell perfectly together).
And the rest, as they say, is history.
I’ve said this before about Special Olympics, but it bears repeating: Have you ever found something you didn’t know you were looking for? Something you didn’t know you needed? That’s this, for me.
In the Spring of 2015, I was the unhappiest I’ve ever been. The highlight of my week was Thursday nights spent keeping the scorebook for SOKY’s basketball leagues at Fern Creek High School. It’s where I ended up talking more to Dallas, and to Cathy, and it’s because of them I am where I am today.
I quit my job that year on June 1 of 2015. Two weeks later, I became a coach for the Royals softball team. Not only was I getting to work with some amazing people, but it took me back to all those summers spent as a kid with my family at the ballpark – playing, umpiring, watching my younger sisters play… it also distracted my from my anxiety about unemployment, which was much-needed. (The distraction. And the unemployment was much-needed, actually. Not the anxiety, though. Never the anxiety).
After that I was talked into coaching football (which is hilarious because I don’t know enough about it to do anything but watch and also I suck at throwing a football). Luckily, the two guys I coached with had that covered so my job was being the sideline mom. I bandaged scrapes, gave hugs and occasionally chased/cuddled our littlest player, Griffin, who was determined to run off in the middle of the game. My presence was very important, obviously.
Then there was basketball. Friends, if I shoot 10 baskets I’m lucky to make 2 of them. So I’m a natural choice to help coach, right? Right. Something worked, though, because our team made it to the state tournament and won gold medals.
Last year was my first time as head coach of anything. I started with softball. And just FYI, head coach can simply mean you get the practice space and do the paperwork. And get dibs on making the lineup if you want. Apparently last year it meant piss off a man who was assisting you by doing nothing more than just existing, but that’s a story for another time. Over a beer.
So many positive things have come out of my time as a coach, though. Almost too many to mention. I’ve made some great friendships with those I’ve coached with – Cathy has become an invaluable part of my life, Gus has been so awesome to coach alongside (the two of us are old pros at this point) and then I’ve also been able to spend more time with my cousin, Aaron, who lived out of town for a long time, but who has joined all of us as a Royals coach.
One of the guys in my youth group helped out during softball season and will be back as a coach this year. Several members of my youth group have volunteered at the state tournaments for basketball and bowling for a few years now. My best friend’s son, who is 13, heard about what I do with SOKY and thought it sounded like a cool way to get Beta Club service hours, and who has since come to a game and three practices and loved it as much as I do.
And that’s just the coach stuff.
I’ve also seen enough athlete moments to make my heart explode.
– Athletes scoring their first basket, run, touchdown.
– Athletes helping each other out – passing a ball to someone younger/who doesn’t always get to score so they can get a chance.
– At skills for softball last year, the entire team cheering for each other as they took turns running the bases as fast as they can.
– The smiles and hugs during and after games win or lose, because they just love to play.
– The encouragement of athletes on other teams.
Special Olympics and those involved – athletes, parents, coaches – have given me so much. More than they’ll ever know. And I cannot imagine life without any of it.
Now please enjoy some pictures. Warning: Your heart might explode.