Gaining a Voice

Prior to starting with Special Olympics Southern California, Digna Punsalang has always known her daughter Patricia to be more reserved and quiet. But during a get-together among her peers, Patricia was asked to stand up in front of a small group.

That’s when Digna first saw how the organization had made a difference outside of just sports. The pleasant surprise stunned her.

“I didn’t believe it. She talked in front of people,” Digna recalled.

Patricia, who has autism, has competed in soccer and swimming with the Cerritos program for the last five years. Early on, there was apprehension, even a little fear, to compete. Yet, there was always a part of the 18-year-old that “loves sports,” Digna said.

“She was really afraid to go to the deep end,” Digna added.

Now, Patricia is a shining example of the Special Olympics athlete oath.

Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

Patricia not only overcame those initial fears, she’s gradually challenged herself and moved up from 10- to 25-meter introductory competitions to 25- to 50-meter freestyle and backstroke races. At the 2017 Summer Games, Patricia completed three races and took home a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle.

“There has been a lot of improvement,” Digna said.

“We’re just happy to see her happy. She has fun and we really support her.”

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