Lexie Koziel is a junior at Algonquin Regional High School, in Northborough, Massachusetts, and participates on the Unified track team, consisting of athletes with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities. She recently attended the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association annual meeting with Special Olympics Massachusetts’ President and CEO, Mary Beth McMahon. Lexie has learned the true meaning of diversity through participating in Unified sports and describes, below, exactly what it means to her.
“On your mark, get set, boom! The race gun goes off and my six teammates hesitate for a moment and then start moving. While four of them run ahead, one runs into the wrong lane and another walks far behind. This is a typical scene at the one hundred meter dash at a unified track meet. I have been lucky to participate on a unified track team, an athletic opportunity open to peers with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Not only has participating on this team made me more tolerant and inclusive, it has also given me great insight into what diversity means to me. Diversity is the condition of being different.
With diversity comes a choice: reject it or embrace it. By accepting diversity I have become friends with some of the nicest, funniest, and most thoughtful people I will ever meet. Through Best Buddies, the Special Olympics Youth Activation Council, and Unified Track, I have made lifelong friendships and have had the opportunity to be involved with activities that I would not have known about if I had chosen to reject diversity. In this sense diversity means opportunities.
Being a member of the unified track team has allowed me to gain insight into the realm of diversity and given me lasting memories. During the past unified track season I got to know Henry, a quiet boy with intellectual disabilities. We had similar personalities and he needed a little extra help staying on task. As time went on Henry became more engaged. At the state meet we stayed together. I cheered Henry on while he competed and we watched other teammates race. At the end of the day Henry said my name for the first time and we had a brief conversation. Before this day our conversations had been one sided where I asked questions and he answered them with one word. I look forward to partnering with Henry again this season. Thus, diversity means friendship.
Diversity has also allowed me to grow and become less shy. I am a quiet person in general, but by joining groups that support diversity I have gained confidence and leadership skills. Therefore, diversity means positive change.
As defined by the dictionary, diversity is the condition of being different. When you accept diversity you open yourself to a bundle of valuable experiences: friendship, opportunities, and positive change. I ask each of you, are you going to reject or embrace diversity?”