By Terrionna Brockman
“I want kindness, inclusion, and acceptance,” says Rachel Osterbach, a Special Olympics Southern California athlete whose impact goes beyond sports.
When Rachel was born with Down syndrome, her parents, Laurie and Gary, did not foresee the abundance of opportunities that she would manifest. They were told by teachers that Rachel would plateau at a certain point and be incapable of learning, but Rachel has defied those odds to thrive and become a community icon.
Rachel is a Special Olympics Southern California Global Messenger and a member of the Special Olympics Southern California Toastmasters Gavel Club. Adding to her areas of impact, Rachel is an advocate, public speaker, and cast member of A&E’s Emmy-winning series, Born This Way.
“If Rachel believes she can do something, she keeps working at it,” said Gary, Rachel’s father, who credits Special Olympics with giving her that confidence. “I think that positive attitude contributes to positive things happening.”
Through her tenacious personality, she has used her platform to inspire and educate others, dispelling myths about people with Down syndrome. Rachel is working to eradicate the use of the ‘R-Word’ [retard]. When discussing her advocacy surrounding the ‘R-Word,’ Rachel openly states, “I was called that word back in high school and did not like it. It’s not nice to say to people, and that word really gets to me a lot. It’s really hurtful to say to people.”
It was through Special Olympics Southern California that Rachel found her voice, built lasting friendships and cultivated her love for sports and public speaking. Rachel’s involvement inspired her family to join the movement. Her mother adds, “We met so many people. We chaperoned. We coached. Special Olympics was part of our lives for thirty years.”
Rachel’s journey to Special Olympics began at age eight in New Jersey where she participated in gymnastics. Following her family’s relocation to California, they knew they had to sign Rachel up to be a Special Olympics athletes again.
“It turned out well as we moved to Fountain Valley, and Rachel went to Edison High School. That school did have Special Olympics, and it turned out to change our world,” said Laurie, Rachel’s mother.
Rachel is not only a community leader, but also strives to grow personally. She has worked in a clerical position in the insurance industry for thirteen years, and in addition to being in the workforce, Rachel has recently embarked on a journey of independence. “I got my own place, and I’ve been here for a while now, so that really challenged me. I did it so I’m happy with myself,” she exclaims.
Like many ambitious and purpose-driven individuals, Rachel wants to be heard by the masses and to be remembered for her kindness and tenacious spirit. It takes tremendous courage to engage crowds and even more courage to share aspects of oneself on a grand scale.