What it means to be part of a team

Chicago Sun-Times - - ADVERTORIA­L -

Grow­ing up as a kid in Ge­or­gia, “sports was my re­lease,” said Mark Cuevas, Spe­cial Olympics Illi­nois am­bas­sador and re­cent con­tes­tant on the hit show, Love is Blind. “I was an en­er­getic kid who, with­out sports, would have been bounc­ing all around. Sports gave me a goal – some­thing to put my mind to. Com­pet­ing was so sat­is­fy­ing. It kept me pos­i­tive.” He’s not alone.

For so many of us, sports pro­vide an out­let for our en­ergy, men­tor­ship from coaches and a sense of be­long­ing on a team. For Spe­cial Olympics ath­letes who have of­ten been iso­lated for much of their lives, that con­nec­tion and ca­ma­raderie is even sweeter.

Mike McLaugh­lin, a multi-sport Spe­cial Olympics ath­lete who works at Jewel in Elmhurst and has racked up more medals than he can count, points to his sup­port­ive com­mu­nity of Spe­cial Olympics’ staff, coaches, vol­un­teers and donors as true cham­pi­ons.

“My coach, Alex, is such a nice guy,” said McLaugh­lin. “He helps you out when you need it, and he al­ways helps you im­prove.”

Cuevas, who played foot­ball and wres­tled, feels sim­i­larly. He cred­its his teams and coaches for not only help­ing him im­prove phys­i­cally, but also for help­ing him grow as a per­son.

“When I started wrestling, I knew noth­ing about it, I was just ath­letic,” Cuevas said. “My coach took the time to not only teach me the fun­da­men­tals, but also the things be­hind it. He taught me about be­ing a man, com­mit­ment — skills that ap­ply every­where. He in­vested in me — and not just as an ath­lete. And I stuck with it. Ev­ery year I got bet­ter. Still to this day he has my back. He’ll be at my wed­ding one day. That’s the kind of re­la­tion­ship we have.”

This is the same com­mit­ment Spe­cial Olympics coaches, staff and vol­un­teers show ath­letes each and ev­ery day. And it’s this com­mu­nity that makes it pos­si­ble for re­mark­able ath­letes to con­nect and com­pete.

“We all like to think we can do it all by our­selves, but no we can’t. There’s no way,” Cuevas added. “But it’s hard to ask for help.”

The com­mu­nity sup­port­ing ath­letes like McLaugh­lin in­cludes count­less Chicagoans who will pur­chase ducks as part of this year’s Ducky Derby. The 15th an­nual event, which races thou­sands of rub­ber ducks down the Chicago river, will be hosted vir­tu­ally on Au­gust 6 this year.

In ad­di­tion to fund­ing pro­grams for more than 23,000 ath­letes with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and nearly 20,000 Young Ath­letes ages 2-7 with and with­out in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties in Illi­nois, the funds raised will also help Spe­cial Olympics nav­i­gate the pan­demic, which has been in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for ath­letes who al­ready feel iso­lated or strug­gle with their men­tal health.

“Like a lot of peo­ple, we’ve had to change the way we’re do­ing things,” said Breen. “We’re try­ing to fig­ure out vir­tual pro­gram­ming, and we’re plan­ning to re­turn to prac­tice and play later this sum­mer. We have some chal­lenges ahead of us, but we’re ready to meet them. Ev­ery­one’s at­ti­tudes are great.”

Chicagoans can pur­chase a duck for $5 at chicago­duck­y­derby.com — or a pack of ducks for even more op­por­tu­ni­ties to win great prizes, in­clud­ing a new car, $2,500, Black­hawks tick­ets and more.

For ath­letes like McLauglin, donor sup­port means more op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­pete – and win.

“I can only imag­ine what these ath­letes ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Cuevas. “It’s a blissful ex­pe­ri­ence to have peo­ple watch­ing you, cheer­ing for you. When peo­ple can ex­pe­ri­ence that, they get it.”

Breen agrees, re­mem­ber­ing what his mom told him when he was five years old, the first time he met a neigh­bor with an in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity: “He wants the same things you do. He just wants to play.”

By sup­port­ing this year’s Ducky Derby, you are join­ing the com­mu­nity sur­round­ing Spe­cial Olympics ath­letes and giv­ing thou­sands of peo­ple in Illi­nois the op­por­tu­nity to grow, com­pete and play.

Visit chicago­duck­y­derby.com to learn more about Spe­cial Olympics Illi­nois, the Chicago Ducky Derby on Au­gust 6 and how you can pur­chase ducks to sup­port ath­letes like Mike McLaugh­lin.

sports was my re­lease

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.