Over the last eight years, I’ve become widely known among family, friends, clients, colleagues and even casual acquaintances as the volunteer gymnastics and cheer coach for Special Olympics Northern Virginia. That’s because I talk a lot—possibly too much—about the magnitude of happiness, pleasure and fulfilment I receive from working with Special Olympics athletes.
I’ve had the good fortune of coaching dozens of gymnasts and cheerleaders, meeting and getting to know their families, and proudly watching our team perform at college stadiums, high-school gymnasiums and military bases. But without a doubt, my favorite time of year is when we travel and compete at the Special Olympics Summer Games in early June. That’s when our athletes, their families, coaches and fans come together for three days of events, starting with opening ceremonies where we join 1,000-plus participants and innumerable attendees to watch as the torch is lit, followed by two days of competition.
Ironically, the satisfaction of supporting Special Olympics has little to do with seeing the athletes perform on the beam, vault or bars. It’s what happens during our off hours, when we spend downtime eating together, playing games, shopping for matching shirts, relaxing and strengthening our bonds as a team and a larger community of athletes. The energy, joy and happiness we feel creates a sense of belonging that’s magical.
Furthering diversity, equity and inclusion
After our most recent Summer Games, I reflected on how fortunate I’ve been to feel valued and accepted in virtually every facet of my life—and to recognize that many Special Olympics athletes and people from different backgrounds may not have had a similar experience. With this enhanced insight, I found greater relevance in my consulting work with a large federal agency that’s heightening its focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Our client’s goal is to create a workplace where everybody can be their authentic selves, fully participate, and feel included, seen and valued, with equal opportunity for success. This renewed D&I effort began about two years ago at the height of national unrest over policing and racial justice issues.
The organization’s first step was to re-establish a diversity council, comprised of 20 members representing the agency’s broad employee base. We’re now working to foster an environment that values the variety of perspectives and encourages innovation to achieve the agency’s mission. The council is leading team-building activities and awareness training, communicating through newsletters, and using other methods to celebrate the organization’s minority populations and cultures. These actions not only educate but bring greater mindfulness about our similarities rather than differences.
Expressing my appreciation
I am so appreciative of Special Olympics for allowing me to coach an amazing group of athletes, to their families who treat me like family, and to the overall experience that’s elevated my awareness about the importance of representation, equity and inclusion. I’m also thankful to Resigility for encouraging me and my colleagues to volunteer for worthy endeavors by providing four days of paid time off per year to contribute to the greater good.
Most of all, I’m happy to understand that while each of us is unique, with different skills, abilities, backgrounds and life experiences, we all want to belong, have purpose and the chance to thrive. And just like Special Olympics is a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community, where every single person is accepted and welcomed, we all must do the same in our work and personal lives.