Andrew Peterson, 20, of Indianapolis, is an athlete. He lettered in cross country all four years at Pike High School. He is one of the best 1500-meter runners in the nation in his classification. He said “I found my voice” when he realized that he may not be as fast as others but nobody could run farther. He is now training for a national competition in Princeton, N.J., this summer.
Peterson is a Special Olympian.
He spoke to the students at Culver Academies on Feb. 26 as part of the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s partnership with Special Olympics. The partnership developed when the 18 members of the IHSAA’s Student Advisory Committee went searching for a way to develop as servant-leaders. Amber Cowell ’14 (Culver) is the private school representative on the student panel.
The advisory committee’s goal is to increase the awareness of Special Olympics on two levels. The first is to have high school athletes at the IHSAA’s 410 member schools engage in mentoring, coaching, and raising funds for the Special Olympics.
The second is to raise the level of awareness among the general public, and especially the children and families who could benefit from the Special Olympics, its events, and the 11,000 participating athletes throughout Indiana.
Peterson spent six years working with a speech therapist and 10 years with a physical therapist. While in school, he was called names by some students and completely ignored by others. They “would walk by me like I didn’t exist,” he said.
But his speech therapist refused to let him give up. “She believed in me,” he said. “She made me practice. It shows what a huge difference one person can make.”
And his physical therapy began to pay dividends as he started to move his arms and legs “more in sync.” Then he discovered running and “found my voice. So many people focused on what I couldn’t do, not what I could do. I showed them.”
Peterson’s father learned about the Special Olympics when Andrew was 13. Now, seven years later, Andrew wishes he had found out about it earlier. “It gives the athlete the chance to improve and compete with others of our abilities,” Peterson said. “And show everyone that we are not a nobody but a somebody.”
Special Olympians have the opportunity to try 20 sports and “be included and be accepted” in a community of other athletes. Quoting the Special Olympics’ oath, he said, “’Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’”
Peterson is now training for his chance for a gold medal in the 1500 meters at the Special Olympics national competition in June. And, he is considered a legitimate contender.
“I don’t want your pity,” he said. “But I need your respect – the respect that all people with disabilities deserve.”
Culver Academies has served as the host for the Marshall-Starke Special Olympics for several years, with students serving as official timers and judges. But Cowell, Kelsi Carr ’14 (Kitchener, Ontario), Josephine Schott ’15 (Newport Beach, Calif.), Varun Devatha ’15 (Springfield, Ohio) and others are working to gather enough students so each competitor can be paired with a student when the games are conducted in April.
The group is also promoting the national “R-Word” campaign. Students, faculty, and staff have been taking the pledge “Spread the Word to End the Word.” The goal is to end the use of the word retarded. Peterson said during his speech that he hoped Culver would set an example by showing that “bullying is never – and I mean never – welcomed here. Remember the lasting impression you can make on me and my fellow athletes.”
The IHSAA-Special Olympics project is called Champions Together. Follow its progress on Twitter (@ChampsTogether) and Facebook (Champions Together).