In 2008, Courtney Neil’s life took a surprising turn when she was selected to be one of the founding members of Project Unify©. Although Courtney was not born with intellectual disabilities, her desire to spend time with her sister Alyssa who is an athlete, led Courtney to spend a large portion of her life dedicated to Special Olympics and the organization’s events.
Courtney became a Unified Partner® in 2001 to participate in Special Olympics competitions with Alyssa. The enthusiasm Courtney exhibited for Alyssa and their special bond as sisters on and off the field prompted local coach, Mary Beth O’Neil to nominate both girls for the Special Olympics International Project Unify committee in 2008.
Both sisters were selected to be part of the exceptional validation group and started working with 14 additional youth members to create model communities of inclusion in schools across the country. Courtney’s experiences with Alyssa and Special Olympics helped her gain a better understanding of what her sister and other athletes endure on a daily basis and taught her to believe in people’s abilities rather than focusing on their disabilities. Courtney is proud to have been chosen as part of the inaugural Project Unify group. She is grateful for the opportunities to work with her sister to make a difference for those with intellectual disabilities in their community together.
For over three years, Courtney has enjoyed working to give a voice to those with intellectual disabilities; to create change and social justice among her peers in school and the community. Courtney has also worked hard on the field with Alyssa which paid off when her sister was chosen to be a member of Team USA in track and field last summer. Courtney traveled with Alyssa to Greece to watch her compete and says the event was one of the best experiences of her life as a sister and a member of the Special Olympics community.
Courtney has helped Project Unify grow and flourish over the past three years, watching it evolve into the Youth Activation Committee. Courtney, Alyssa and one additional YAC member from Massachusetts are approaching their term limit and will leave the group in May. Although Courtney is sad her time with the committee is ending she is thrilled the organization is growing stronger and will stay connected and contribute to the group in other ways. Currently she sees herself coaching when she is no longer competing. Courtney is grateful to Special Olympics Massachusetts and feels her involvement with the organization has positively affected every aspect of her life in the best possible manner. She is especially grateful for the strong relationship it has given her with her sister.