Anyone who has read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, will recall one of her recommendations for leading a happy life is to make new friendships. Sometimes making new friends can be challenging for parents of children with special needs. Our kids might have a tough time at public events and often our attention is so focused on our child we don’t have opportunities to socialize and meet new people. Many of us have written “form a network of understanding peers” on our to-do list. As days then weeks then months pass, that item remains unchecked. We may even experience feelings of sadness and loneliness. We read about increasing numbers of diagnosis, yet we don’t know how to connect with those families. Special Olympics has the power to help parents build that network and check that item off the to-do list.
Last fall, my friend, Julia Gionet, and I were bowling with our kids and Julia said, “I wish we had a Special Olympics bowling team.” We agreed to make that wish come true. Four months later, our new local program, Midstate Sports, hosted its first candlepin bowling season at Mason’s Bowling and Recreation Center in Leominster. Each week, my son looked forward to bowling with his friends. Friendships amongst parents formed quickly and siblings joined the team. Our seven athletes bowled without bumpers and gained some impressive bowling skills over a few weeks!
My husband, Rob Haneisen, coached the first season for the Midstate Sports athletics team. We had ten athletes and nine volunteers enjoying weekly track and field drills. On August 20, Coach Rob will run the Falmouth Road Race to raise funds for Special Olympics.
I am proud that we have a lot of parent and sibling involvement in our Midstate Sports programs. Sometimes a whole family is participating as athletes and volunteers and they are all on the field exercising and playing with the group. With some of the other families, mom and dad walk laps around the track during practice. Our program gives them time to exercise for a healthy body and time to talk for a healthy marriage.
Midstate Sports athletes are between the ages of 8-15 and several of our team members are on the autism spectrum. We meet the children where they are at. We understand sensory overload and meltdowns. When a child is having a tough day at practice we recognize that just being there matters and is a success.
We are looking forward to our next candlepin bowling season after the school year starts. In the meantime, we visit each other, celebrate birthdays, meet to play and encourage each other through challenges. Because of Special Olympics we now have a network of families to encourage and support each other in our journeys.
Marshal “Marci” Haneisen
Midstate Sports Local Program Coordinator & Coach