Daree Jordan sees her son, Justus, as one of the many athletes who have gone through a transformative experience with Special Olympics Southern California.
Among the biggest differences are in the confidence the 24-year-old carries and the camaraderie he shares with his fellow Special Olympics San Luis Obispo County athletes.
“He just looks forward to this so much,” Daree said.
Justus started competing as an 8-year-old, but the interest in sports started before he was eligible for Special Olympics’ traditional sports programs. At the time, Young Athletes (ages 2-7) was not yet part of the services offered.
Justus played tennis this fall and participated in track and field earlier this year. The Arroyo Grande resident has also competed in basketball and soccer in past years, and now he’s gearing up for the floor hockey season.
“He has always loved sports,” his mother said. “It was just a natural progression.”
The benefits beyond just the competitions are “huge” for Justus and his peers, said Daree, a behavior health specialist.
She recalled working with a child who was “so gifted and really athletic,” but was not interested in more mainstream sports programs nor was he much of a talker. So, she suggested he give Special Olympics a shot.
“His mom said his confidence went through the roof,” Daree said. “Special Olympics is more than sports.”
Among those aspects is Healthy Athletes, which provides free health services to the athletes. Whether it’s vision, hearing or any other simple screening , the program puts the athletes “who wouldn’t even see a doctor, otherwise” in front of health specialists.
“A lot of our athletes don’t have health benefits,” Daree said. “[Healthy Athletes] just gets better and better.”
She encourages more families struggling to find the right fit to give the same transition a chance.
“It’s really not about how athletic you are or the ‘W,'” she added. “We’ve won already, we’re here.
“The relationships (among the athletes) are beautiful.”
Inside the SOSC is a blog written by staff member Tracy McDannald. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.