Growing up, I always wanted to be more like my younger sister. I always admired her outspokenness and determination, and I wanted to be more like that myself. I taught myself jump rope and how to ride a two-wheel bike, bruises and all. It was clear to my family that my determination was going to take me places, and it ultimately led me to the Special Olympics.
Although I’m the only Special Olympian in my family, the games were always a family endeavor, and everyone would come to watch and cheer me on. I’ve been participating in the Special Olympics since high school and have competed in long jump, track, and bowling. I’ve competed in over 40 Special Olympics since 1975 and my competitions over the years at Allentown, Hershey, and Villanova have earned me numerous gold medals.
Competing in the Special Olympics takes dedication, and during training season my team practices two nights a week at Kirby Park, and on Saturdays it’s early rising to tackle some bowling. My determination and persistence have paid off though — I once walked against an 80-year-old man who didn’t like that I passed him and won the gold. The pandemic may have interrupted travel last year, but it wasn’t going to stop the Olympics themselves. I won another gold medal at this year’s virtual competitions at Allentown and Hershey, this time in track for walking.
My participation in the Special Olympics has given me much more than medals, though. I’ve made friends from other counties, I’ve had the opportunity to see different places, and it has shaped me immensely. Being able to spend time with my friends at the Special Olympics is one of the most important reasons I love doing them.
When I’m not training to win gold medals, I like to make art. I love coloring in adult coloring books, doing word puzzles, and attending shows at the Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
My job at King’s College began in 2002. The Special Olympics enabled me to hold a job I’m proud of, with the impact on my social skills being the most profound. However, above all, my parents think I’ve become more self-sufficient, independent, and less afraid to try things. I am a very kind person and I love to laugh and make others laugh too, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. The Special Olympics has taught me how to stand tall and proud and how to be an independent and happy person.
What began as a hobby turned into something so much more special to me than I ever could have realized. If I keep on doing the Special Olympics, I’ll be happy, so I plan to continue participating in them for as long as I can.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and we are humbled to share Jeannie’s journey. We are inspired by her story, and are so proud to have her as a part of our team!