by CJ VanSkiver
“Never give up,” is something I say to myself all the time. It means that the only way you can fail is if you stop trying. I learned that in Special Olympics.
I love sports but as I got older, it got harder for me to find teams to play with and make friends. When I was a freshman in high school at Forest Hills Northern, someone had the idea of forming a Special Olympics girls basketball team. I thought that was a great idea, so I got all my classmates to join me and we created Team Thunder. Eight years later, I still play on that team. We have earned two State Championships and become a sisterhood of friends. We support each other on the court and in lots of other ways, too. We cheer each other on no matter what we dream and always look to include everyone whenever we can. This experience is about so much more than sports. It has also helped me to be a leader for inclusion in many ways.
In addition to being an athlete, I am also a student at Noorthoek Academy at GRCC, a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, a graduate of the Project Search Internship Program for adults with special needs, and the first ever special needs adult to be hired as a full-time employee in the surgical department of Spectrum Health. Three years ago, I was asked to be an athlete representative on the “Building Tomorrow’s Champions” Capital Campaign Cabinet to raise $10 million to renovate the old South Christian High School into the largest Special Olympics training facility and Inclusion Center in the world!
My favorite part about that opportunity is, of course, the gymnasium because it is the only one in the world that has the Special Olympics logo right in the center of the court. It makes me so proud every time I get to play there. My second favorite part is that our Inclusion Center isn’t just for us, it’s for everybody! I love to see all kinds of people there playing, learning, growing, and being a part of our movement. It is full of people who think like me and know how important it is to “Never Give Up.”