The following is the first of two speeches Special Olympics Massachusetts athlete Tyler Lagasse gave at the law firm of Holland & Knight L.L.P. for an event centered around the R-Word campaign, on October 19, 2012 in Boston.
My name is Tyler Hollis Lagasse. For 10 years, I have been a proud representative of Special Olympics Massachusetts. Thanks to SOMA, I have been able to excel on the playing field as well as behind the podium and have earned my way into their Hall of Fame. Beyond that, I got to travel to Florida and Nebraska to compete nationally for Special Olympics. I have won numerous medals while competing in basketball, golf, track & field, and alpine skiing. But Special Olympics is more than winning medals, it is about winning respect of teammates and opponents alike, improving one’s confidence level, developing certain skills that are essential to everyday life, and most important of all gaining acceptance.
Sometimes because of my autism and my having to live with it every single day of my life, there are times when I feel like I’m alone, when I feel like I am meaningless, like I don’t have an identity, like I am not capable of contributing to society. In other words I get the feeling of being left out, disregarded, disenfranchised, unwelcomed, and disrespected. I remember vividly as a young child being left out not because I was too little and had very precious little athletic ability, but because of my autism. Not many people wanted to be around me, or hang out with me. Sometimes, I would be subject to teasing. That gave me feelings of emptiness and insecurity.
But thanks to Special Olympics, I don’t feel alone. I feel like I am a part of something, like I am being well supported, like somebody is looking out for me. I have a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging; many thousands of athletes can say the same thing. It’s given me self-esteem, confidence, and encouragement, and it carries over into college where I am working diligently towards my degree in Liberal Arts/Life Sciences concentration. I feel more optimistic on account of this organization and I cannot thank them enough. People living with physical and intellectual disabilities look up to Special Olympics, because there are no other places to create friendships and memories of such meaningful significance. Thankfully, there is a place for a select group of people that are in a way rejected based on who they are and who they are not. This place is the Special Olympics.