Special Voices: Life doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be joyful

Photo by Daniel Smrokowski | For the Bugle Daniel Smrokowski, middle, takes a #unifiedselfie with Erin Compton and Becky Cavanagh.

By Daniel Smrokowski | Bugle Columnist

This week we celebrate the beginning of a new year and that brings New Year’s resolutions for many individuals. This year, I’d like to recommend some resolutions for how you can change the game for a more accepting and inclusive world.

This year, let us continue to focus on the abilities of those of us with special needs, as we educate our communities on how to bring pure joy and determination to everything that we do.

Take, for example, a relatively new challenge to help do just that. This past year, Special Olympics launched a new challenge called “P.L.A.Y. #LetsChangeTheGame.” The challenge is simple.

Its mission is to encourage all people to play, learn, accept and say “yes” together. The goal is to have common ground among people of all abilities.

To give a specific example, this past week I and my fellow SEASPAR Special Olympics teammates had the opportunity to play what Special Olympics calls unified basketball. The Level Up youth basketball team, based in Downers Grove, consisted of players without disabilities.

They partnered with my team in playing a fun unified scrimmage game. Together, the Level Up youth basketball players played with us and learned about our differences. These players then were able to accept us and say “yes” to an inclusive game.        

This year, let’s take time to focus on the pure joyous moments of all of our lives. One can snap a photo, write a blog post or column, or podcast anecdotes that showcase those moments that bring about pure joy. One can also simply relate anecdotes of joyous moments, while engaging in old-fashioned conversation.

One such pure joyful episode occurred to me this past summer. The date was July 25, and I was standing on the field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The opening ceremony of the Special Olympics 2015 World Summer Games was taking place.

I was standing among my fellow Special Olympics athletes. We were celebrating our abilities— whether we were there on that global stage as an athlete or a journalist. For those in attendance, we celebrated our acceptance and inclusion within the world.

Another pure joyful moment for me also occurred this past year in Normal, Illinois, at the 2015 Summer Games for Special Olympics Illinois. This time I was with previous “Special Voices” athletes Erin Compton and Becky Cavanagh, both diagnosed with Down syndrome. It was at the opening ceremony that I first met Erin and Becky. The #UnifiedSelfie that the three of us captured that first night of the weekend showed the pure joy that those of us with special needs can bring to our communities.

Many of us with special needs demonstrate determination in everything we do. We work so hard to achieve our goals despite any challenges that we face. One of my former special education teachers, Leann Philgren, personally witnessed the hard work ethic that my fellow classmates at Westmont High School and I had displayed.

In a past Special Chronicles podcast, Leann spoke about the determination, perseverance and ability to overcome obstacles that those of us with special needs bring to our world.

“He’s so powerful. He’s one of those students that work so hard to be successful,” said Leann.  “What you guys bring to our population is a gift.”     

Our parents, in addition to our teachers, are ones that firsthand recognize the determination that we show the world.

“The ability to smile and carry on no matter the circumstances is something that Erin teaches us all,” said Diane Compton, mother of Erin. “Not expecting life to be perfect for it to be joyful.”

This year, let us recall the joyous moments and determination that those of us with special needs bring to our world. Join me in the new year, and let’s change the game in bringing about pure joy to our world.


Daniel Smrokowski was born three-and-a-third months premature, and diagnosed with learning disabilities and a severe language disorder. He is an athlete and global messenger with Special Olympics Illinois on the Southeast Association for Special Parks and Recreation team. Daniel is the founder of Special Chronicles nonprofit new media company, a pioneering network that gives respect and voice to people with special needs. Come join us at www.SpecialChronicles.com.

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