Ashley Sanchez is a Cuban American fourth-year student at Florida International University who was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She graduated with an Associates in Arts degree from Miami Dade College in 2018. After receiving her AA degree, she transferred to FIU in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation and Recreational Therapy. She is currently in the FIU Honors College and is part of the Pre-Therapy Student’s Association. She has also competed in several intramural sports at FIU including human foosball, volleyball, and kickball. She will begin applying to different graduate programs in the upcoming year to further her education in pursuit of becoming an Occupational Therapist. Ashley has a passion for adventure, sports, dancing and loves to spend quality time with her family and friends. This is her Miami Service Project.
Special Olympics’ goal is to change the lives of individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities by providing them a brand new world of inclusion. Their goal is to break down the barriers that individuals with disabilities face when it comes to inclusion, and provide them a way to stay active and become incredible athletes.
Their mission statement says, “The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community” (“Mission”, 2022).
As a future occupational therapist, my goal is to improve individuals’ overall biopsychosocial well-being. I want to make a difference in the lives of individuals with mental and physical disorders so that they can become more independent and be able to use their talents in a way that isn’t hindered by their disabilities. I believe that sports and physical activities are one of the best forms of therapy and a great way to nurture friendships. That is why Special Olympics is such an incredible organization.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to be an active volunteer for several organizations and institutions that cater to individuals with disabilities. I have volunteered in places/events such as: The WOW Center, Shake A Leg Miami, Special Olympics Florida, and Adaptive Bike Days sponsored by Memorial Hospital. Each experience has further nurtured my passion and love for helping others. They have given me a chance to deepen my drive to improve other’s lives and lower the barriers they face. Since Special Olympics combined the two things that I love-sports and helping the disabled community-I knew it was the perfect fit for me.
Early in March, I was at a volunteering event for individuals with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities. I was in charge of handing out forms to the participants and as I handed a participant form to a man who came with his son, he began talking to me about his job at Special Olympics as their softball, volleyball, and bowling coach. I introduced myself and had a conversation with him about my plan to become an occupational therapist, my love for sports, and my passion to help others with disabilities. He immediately said he would love to have me on their team as a volunteer.
After exchanging numbers, I was able to reach out to him and ask if I could volunteer in any of the upcoming volleyball practices and he immediately texted back saying he was glad I had reached out and that practices are every Saturday morning. And just like that, I showed up to the upcoming Saturday practice and signed the form to become an official Special Olympics volunteer.
WHERE AND WHAT?
The team practices every Saturday from 9am-10:30am at Nova Southeastern University in the second floor of the Don Taft Center located on 3301 College Avenue Fort-Lauderdale-Davie. The team also has home tournaments and travel tournaments throughout the season.
I was able to meet all the team members and other volunteers at the first practice. All the athletes were extremely welcoming and showed a bright smile on their faces when they saw that I was going to be their new volunteer. Some of them have intellectual disabilities such as Down Syndrome and others have physical disabilities such as visual impairments. However, their passion for the sport propels them to disregard the societal and physical barriers that they constantly face, and allows them to work hard to succeed.
As a volunteer, I helped out with their drills and participated in scrimmage games. In the first drill, the athletes took turns serving the volleyball over the net at least 3 times-their goal was to perfect their spike serves. After each participant served 3 times, they took turns trying to return the ball on defense. This takes a lot of coordination, skill, and team work which can be extra challenging for them because of their disabilities. I helped the coach make sure that everyone took their turn, coached the athletes on different strategize that would help them return the ball, and made sure everyone was working well as a team.
It’s sad to think about the fact that without organizations like Special Olympics, the individuals I met may have never gotten a chance to participate in a sport which allows them to stay active. Living a sedentary life can be extremely detrimental for anyone, but especially, those with disabilities since they already face added health obstacles. Being able to play sports will allow individuals with disabilities to socialize, put their cognitive skills to the test, and improve their cardiovascular and neuromuscular health. Special Olympics makes that possible for them.
The world has come a long way when it comes to treating individuals with disabilities with the respect they deserve. At some point in time and still, today, a disability is looked down upon or pitied. However, individuals with disabilities deserve to be included and deserve to be heard. Special Olympics doesn’t only create sports programs for disabled individuals. The organization offers unified sports programs which allows individuals of all abilities to play in the same sport together, further emphasizing their goal to create a more inclusive world. Not only does this create an environment for the participants to feel like they are just another one of the “normal” kids, this raises awareness for the able-bodied community to be able to fully immerse themselves into that kind of environment.
Throughout history, many have advocated for the rights of the disabled community, and many institutions have been able to provide them a better overall quality of life like Special Olympics. However, there is still a lot of work that has to be done and I will continue to advocate for inclusion and speak on behalf of the voiceless to continue making these changes.
Mission. SpecialOlympics.org. (2022, April 4). Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.specialolympics.org/about/our-mission?locale=en