A Story of Inspiration: How Vernon Changed My Perception of Disability
How Vernon Changed My Perception of Disability
It was the summer after my freshman year of high school and I had decided that I wanted to volunteer for the Special Olympic Games in town. On the list was a participant named Vernon who I randomly selected to mentor and coach that weekend. I had no idea what to expect and didn’t have any experience working with children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
When I arrived at the event, I came with the intention and desire to help uplift this young man’s spirits. I went over to the big tent in the middle of the field, met the director of the Special Olympic Games then met Vernon, a 24-year-old young man living with Down syndrome.
I shared with Vernon that I was on the track and field team at school and enjoyed the variety of events. I noticed that Vernon looked down most of the time and didn’t have much to say. At that point, I didn’t know if he was disinterested in the conversation, wasn’t able to communicate with me, or didn’t understand what I was saying. It didn’t matter because I was there to inspire him. Yet, little did I know that the roles would soon become reversed and Vernon would make an impression on me that would last a lifetime.
We proceeded to jog together and then something remarkable happened. Without even knowing it, I was the one who was becoming inspired! I would cheer him on, yelling “Go, Vernon!” as he sprinted past me down the track. I was pumping my fist, while watching him make his way around the track. Before I knew it, he would be back around for another lap, sprinting again past me with this “blaze of glory” look and a gigantic smile plastered all over his face. As he rounded the corner, he stopped to give me a high five. Vernon would repeat this for two or three more times, grunting along the way.
I had never seen anything like it! I couldn’t take my eyes off of Vernon. I was mesmerized by his zest for life and his positive attitude. He came around the turn again and as I was anticipating another high five, Vernon lunged toward me, ambushing me with this big bear hug. While feeling his labored breathing all over my face, I held him in my arms.
He looked up at me with these big puppy dog eyes and said, “Coach! Coach! You inspire me! What do you want me to do now?” At that moment, I thought, “I inspire you?” All of my misconceptions and limitations that I had thought about individuals with this condition suddenly vanished. Vernon was the one who inspired me and opened my eyes to what the possibilities that children with not only Down syndrome, but with any disability could do and become. This symbiotic relationship that we coalesced that weekend taught me the power of perception.
Many people, including myself at the time, think that individuals with Down syndrome are less happy than individuals without Down syndrome. According to a study that reported the level of happiness among people with Down syndrome:
- 99% of people with Down syndrome who were surveyed expressed that they were happy with their lives.
- 96% said that they like who they are and how they look.
- 99% said that they love their family.
According to the most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the number of babies born each year with Down syndrome is around 6,000, which is approximately 1 in every 700 babies born. Compared to children without the condition, these individuals are at an increased risk for a variety of conditions, which include heart defects, respiratory problems, ear and eye-related issues, and intestinal blockage that requires surgery.
“Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you’re needed by someone.” ~Martina Navratilova (considered to be one of the best professional female tennis players of all time)
That day, Vernon did not win any medals in any of the competitions, but his infectious enthusiasm and love for life won over my heart as he demonstrated that life is not about being the smartest, the strongest, or the best-looking. It’s about caring for and loving one another. It’s about accepting people where they are and not drawing conclusions about what they can and cannot do because, when given the opportunity, people can surprise you in a good way.
When you open your heart to the endless possibilities that exist in the world and keep an open mind to things you may not fully understand, life can take you to places you can’t even imagine. That right there is showing off your God-given abilities (a.k.a. your superpowers)!
Douglas Haddad, is an award-winning educator and best-selling author. You can go online or to a local bookstore and order his best-selling-book The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens: Strategies for Unlocking Your Child’s Full Potential, you will find specific strategies to help guide your child with time management, setting goals, and motivation to achieve greatness in their life. www.douglashaddad.com
You May Also Like
- Advocating for Your Child
- Unified Sports: A Great Way to Start Inclusion in a Fun and Positive Way
- Special Olympics Is Truly Special and Much More Than Just Sports
- Special Olympics Success and Encouragement for All!
- Special Twist Cheerleading: Something to Cheer about!
- List and Explanation of Disabilities for Disability Awareness Month
- Disabilities Shouldn’t Define Individuals Awareness and Dialogue Promote Acceptance
- Sister & Children’s Author Aims to End Discrimination
- Kids’ Books Essentials: Supporting Different-Ability Awareness
- Disability Etiquette 101
- Acceptance is the Key
- Why Using a Wheelchair Is the Opposite of Giving Up
This post originally appeared on our January/February 2019 Magazine