An Essay by Julie Carroll
Ever since I was a young girl, I have wanted to help others. Community service has always been a constant in my life. I have volunteered at road races with my family, have been very involved in my parish and school communities, devoted my free time to helping with Open Houses, volunteered at Bible Camps, supported charity events, served as a class officer, as well as being a member on the merger committee for our future Catholic diocesan high school. During my junior year, I had the opportunity to form a new school club which became known as the Special Olympics Support Club. The purpose of the club is to work with the Special Olympics Massachusetts organization to assist with their mission of providing year-round sports training and competition for athletes with intellectual disabilities. Volunteering with Special Olympics has become so meaningful to me that I feel I would not be the same person today without this valuable experience.
My story began many years ago in my childhood. Just weeks before the start of kindergarten, I was diagnosed with a permanent bilateral hearing loss. Essentially, this meant that I would have to wear hearing aids for the rest of my life in order to hear at the same level as the average person. Nevertheless, I was blessed to have been born with a high-frequency hearing loss only, not complete deafness. Even without hearing aids, I am able to hear most of everyday conversations, aside from very soft or high pitch sounds.
Since my diagnosis, I knew that I would always be different. I would always be known as the girl with the hearing aids. On the sports field, however, I eventually found this was not true. Aside from missing the occasional whistle during a game, I was no different from any other athlete. Whether on the soccer field, the softball diamond, the basketball court, or eight-lane track, I found my competitive spirit was just as fierce as everyone else’s. I felt at home on the sports fields and eventually my success in athletics allowed me to be seen as a hard-working and dedicated athlete rather than someone with a disability. Now, many years later, I am no longer self-conscious about my differences. I have confidence in who I am and in what I can accomplish.
My love for sports and desire to help the broader community led me to form the Special Olympics Support Club, through which I hope to help the intellectually challenged athletes gain the same confidence I found in myself and to help them view themselves as strong, unique individuals. I have learned to accept people for who they are and not to judge them by their outward appearance. I hope to teach the students who participate in the club, and by extension students in our school, to see others the same way. I often wonder how my life would be different if I had never been given the chance to prove myself, simply because I wore hearing aids. I imagine how devastating that would have been for my self-esteem. I truly love to help these athletes realize their full potential, and to see their parents stand proud as they watch their children compete. It has been so rewarding to witness the radiant glow on the athletes’ faces and to share in their positive energy and enthusiasm as they compete to the best of their abilities.
Athletics has enabled me to identify myself as a unique individual. I have grown into the confident person I am today through my participation in sports. This experience has led me to seize opportunities to inspire others to realize that they too are not defined by their disability, but rather by their accomplishments both on and off the playing fields.