November 19, 2012 | Updated: January 29, 2019

By Kasi Turner

I want to tell you about my son and about how special, Special Olympics is to our family. 

We are part of the San Antonio Texas Special Olympics.

Our son, Seth Ryan (who is autistic) is a part of Coach Shirley Johnson’s ‘Best Friends’ Sp Ol team.  Although she coaches an Adult team, and it has hundreds of members, she welcomed my (then 11 year old) son, Seth into her fold.  No other teams would take him, as they were ‘too full’.  Coach Shirley’s motto is that she will take ANYONE who wants to join her team.

When Coach Shirley first met with us to discuss his special needs and the ins and outs of Sp Ol, it was love at first sight!  Seth was hugging on her over and over and over!  She was immediately and eternally endeared to him!  She made us feel at ease, like things would be ok.  We had an immediate support group!  We would no longer alone.

When Seth came to Shirley, he was having severe anger and rage issues, someone whom he did NOT want to be.  She took him in anyway – saw through the behavior and saw the child.   She gave us immediate hope, as his rages were so bad, we had to remove him from his public, special needs school and homeschool him.

In the years that we have been on Coach Shirley’s team, she has helped us to know little ‘tricks’ to help with parenting him.  She has ‘volunteered’ us to volunteer – as several of our parents and siblings do.  (A surprisingly few amount.)  She had me sign up officially so I could help and direct our kids at meets, etc. 

Although I don’t actually help ‘coach’ the sports, I take times, direct traffic, potty patrols, etc – she knows how to match you with what you are able to do!  My daughter also helps as she can (she has mental illness and is fragile so she cannot help as much as she would like).   Anyway, Coach Shirley has been such an inspiration to us, that we WANTED to help in any way we could, do anything needed. 

She is an amazing person, teacher, coach, friend; giving so much of herself.  As example, she had heart surgery between sports activities, and by the time I saw her again, she was BACK AT IT!!!  I didn’t even know she had-had the surgery! 

Her faithfulness to these children and to their families is paramount.  The difference she makes in the lives of our kids and our parents cannot be measured in any spoken terms.  It’s so nice to know you have someone on YOUR TEAM to support you and give insight where you had none before; caring for our children and our SP OL kids.  We are all so thankful to her; she is a REAL BLESSING from God.

Anyway, my son is now 15.  He participates in Track and Field, and in Bowling.  He loves the camaraderie and fellowship of his fellow teammates.  They have all accepted him as their equal and their friend and fellow teammate.  As you certainly know, these Special People don’t seem to see any difference between them and anyone else that is more OR less mentally or physically able than they are.  That is part of what makes them so special.  They have taught us to love Each and Every one of them!

Seth has gained so much confidence in himself and an understanding that people are just ‘supposed’ to love you right off the bat!  (Not that-that was EVER in question with him!) 

When I explained that in the Baton Relay, his teammates ‘Depended’ on him.  He was so proud, excited, amazed!  He had never been a part of a team of any sort, and Definitely had never been ‘Relied’ upon to ‘do his job’ by ANYONE.  Before he began Sp Ol, he had never been ‘Valued’ and was just a ‘misfit’, someone that was different – and not necessarily in a good way.  Rather than be cherished for his difference, as he is in Sp Ol, he was Bullied because of it – left out, and chastised.

Seth has a VERY sweet heart – he is so empathetic, loving, concerned for others’ feelings and needs; ready to serve any need they might have.  I am just so thankful that there is place where he can be just that – kind-hearted and loving; and be appreciated for it – loved by all the other kids for his person.   The ‘Best Friends’ team is a place for him to thrive – feel successful at something.

I was given a picture of Seth (a parent had taken some beautiful pics of many or most of our kids).  As he was running – the look of PRIDE on his face was OVERWHELMING.  We never thought that he would feel that sense of accomplishment,  the sense of well-being that one gets from succeeding, excelling, and being accepted as an equal.

The picture inspired me so that I could actually look at our life and the special needs of my family members (we are all four disabled) in a different light.  It helped me to be a better caregiver of my family and to see each of us for our successes, and not our inabilities and failures. 

If these kids could get together and support each other and with a common goal – in spite of their own issues, as well as the issues of others, then the world could be a MUCH greater place because of them.

In short, I am thankful for Special Olympics, all of its financial supporters, promoters, and ALL of its volunteers.  I am SO thankful for Coach Shirley and the other faithful coaches on our team. 

I am inspired and awed by the whole organization.  You take kids that cannot be so successful in the ‘harsh’ world and allow them success and accomplishment in their own world; with which they can better be prepared for achievement and success in the ‘harsh’ world. 

I am equally thankful for having a son who sports that he is the ‘best long jumper on the whole team’!!!  A confidence I would NEVER have expected from him.

My HEARTFELT thanks goes out to the whole organization; and especially Coach Shirley!