CHAPTER 3: MURRAY SPECIAL OLYMPICS
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For Michelle Cox, the trip from her family’s hometown in Big Sandy, Tennessee to Murray, Kentucky takes an hour one way.
Nearly 40 miles to and 40 more miles home, sometimes two, three or four times a week.
It might be enough to deter some people, but not her.
Because this 80-mile drive gets Michelle to a place where she can watch her 28-year-old son Tyler do what he loves—play sports. And play sports he does…basketball and bowling, golf and soccer, swimming and softball, track and field—Tyler has participated in nearly every sport that the Murray Delegation of the Special Olympics has to offer him and other people in the region with intellectual disabilities.
“When Tyler graduated from high school, there was nothing here in our community for him to do,” Michelle recalls.
“He missed school, he missed his peers.”
An Air Force family, the Coxes have served our country in various places in the world throughout Tyler’s life, and in many of them, they took part in local chapters of the Special Olympics. While stationed in Germany, one chapter even taught Tyler how to snow ski.
But, back home in Western Tennessee when Tyler graduated, Michelle could find no activities for him. She calls it a “blessing” when they happened to encounter another family who was en route to a Special Olympics event with the Murray Delegation on a Saturday. By Tuesday, Tyler was playing basketball as a Murray Rocket. Six years later, Michelle doesn’t hesitate when asked about the benefits of the organization to her son and family.
“It has dramatically improved the quality of his life and our lives, definitely,” she says.
“It’s been a great thing for him to go and be with peers and have an outlet that’s other than being with mom and dad.”
“We’re active at church, but for him to have his own thing is really, really great.”
Laura Miller, local coordinator for the Murray Delegation isn’t surprised that the Cox family travels so far to participate in their activities–they are only one of many that do the same.
“Right now in Western Kentucky, our Delegation offers more sports opportunities, so we have athletes that come to us from McCracken, Graves, Marshall and Trigg Counties in Kentucky and from several counties in Tennessee as well,” she says.
The Murray Delegation, in fact, has 120 active athletes that participate in sports that span four sports seasons. Playing alongside those athletes are more than 60 unified partners, students and adults without disabilities who serve as mentors and companions on the fields, courts, courses and tracks.
Many of these athletes, according to Laura, fall outside of what she calls the normal perception of the “young child participating in a track and field event.” In fact, many, like Tyler, are adults, some even participating well into their fifties and sixties.
“For children, sometimes it’s a little easier for them to be involved in sports and they have their families to keep them active,” she says.
“Once they get to adulthood and are out of school, there’s not a lot of recreational activities that are available for them.”
While the sports opportunities that Special Olympics offer are the backbone of the organization’s mission, the Murray Delegation believes they have much more to offer intellectually disabled people and their families and caregivers.
Through regular information sessions and networking events, Laura says one goal is to “empower our families.”
“I know sometimes families struggle a little bit when their children age out of school to know where to get help and services,” she says.
“We really feel like it’s part of our mission to help in getting that information to them to support the whole family.”
For athletes themselves, Laura believes sports are only the organization’s “catalyst of change.”
“Everybody wants something that they are good at and they feel accomplished through, and I think Special Olympics gives that,” she says.
“As a secondary result of that, it improves self-esteem and it improves leadership and communications skills.”
Through courses and training in leadership and public speaking, Laura hopes that her athletes can eventually have the tools to advocate on behalf of themselves.
The Murray Delegation’s commitment to reaching every aspect of their athlete’s lives and the lives of those who care for them is part of the reason why Michelle believes the chapter soars above any other that her family has taken part in across the world.
“It’s head and shoulders above anything we’ve been involved with, very much so,” she says.
“There’s a place for everybody and something for everybody.”
Asked if she believes Tyler will stay involved with the Murray Rockets in the future, Michelle says, “Oh, I hope so.”
“We plan to be there for a very long time.”
Special Olympics athletes are never asked to pay to participate in events, so the organization regularly hosts fundraisers and accepts donations to keep opportunities available.
If you would like to donate or assist with a fundraiser, please contact Laura Miller, Special Olympics KY West Regional Director at 270-293-9054 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you know of someone who would like to participate in Special Olympics Murray Delegation, please contact Laura Miller.
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