When it comes to sports, almost every group gets a chance to showcase their talents. But during one period in time, those with special needs and disabilities were left as spectators; they were not allowed to enjoy that type of play. But this changed in 1968 when John F. Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, started a summer day camp for mentally disabled people in her own backyard. She wanted to change the way the world perceived those with special needs. In July 1968, she launched the first International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago. Later on that year, the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation incorporated Special Olympics and the program has grown exponentially ever since.
The impact of Special Olympics continues to expand today. Parker Prysiazniuk, a rising senior at Davie High School, has developed a passion for creating opportunities for special needs individuals. It all began with his great uncle, who had Down syndrome. “My mother saw the lack of opportunities that were available to him and always sought to make a change in the lives of individuals with special needs,” Parker says. This inspired both Parker and his older sister, Logan, to get involved with the Special Olympics organization.
Parker was led to launch the first Special Olympics Track Program in Davie County after receiving many requests for a greater variety of sports in the community. As a varsity cross-country and track runner at Davie High School, Parker felt that he could use his skill set and passion for helping those with special needs to expand the programs available in the county. To meet the financial needs required to start this program, Parker presented a grant request to the SURF Board, a board led by students that helps fund youth-led projects in the community. After SURF agreed to Parker’s vision and funded his program, his track teammates and friends volunteered to help coach, and his track team of seven athletes was formed. After five weeks of practice, Parker had a team up and running, ready for the state competition in Raleigh.
On June 1st, Parker and his team of volunteers, along with the seven athletes, traveled to St Augustine University in Raleigh to showcase their newly acquired track skills. Each of the athletes competed in three different events, ranging from shot put, long jump, relays, and running events. “I could not be more proud of this team,” Parker says. “Not only did the athletes’ hard work manifest itself during the competition, but their positive attitudes and support for their teammates made me the most proud.” The Davie ‘Eagles’ came home with 17 gold and silver medals – a feat unheard of for a first year team.
Parker hopes his program will continue to thrive after he goes off to college and that this will inspire his peers to make a difference in the special needs community. “I would like to thank the Davie County community for the overwhelming support of myself and the athletes,” says Parker. “It is truly heartwarming to see the outpouring of encouragement that individuals give to the athletes whether it is in the school cafeteria or at a Friday night football game.” He encourages all individuals to be a part of the Special Olympics program, whether that be through donations or volunteer work. Not only will you be making a difference in the lives of those with special needs, but it will make a difference in your life as well.