Special-needs kids joining games early

first_img“Years and years ago, kids like ours were institutionalized or kept in the house out of sight,” said Nick’s mom, Miriam Kang. “Now they’re outside showing everyone what they can do.” Even before most of these kids could walk, they were winning ribbons in the mini-meet for the five-foot crawl and the bean-bag toss. By the time they were 2, they were gathering at the starting line for the 15-foot walk, and they were knocking over empty tennis cans with a tennis ball. All of them getting ready for the day they would turn 8 and could take part in the main event. “Special Olympics is great, but my daughter’s only 3,” said Matt Dumas, Genevieve’s father. “She had a long ways to go before getting a chance to be on that medal stand.” Genevieve Dumas and Nicholas Kang still have five years to go before they are old enough to participate in Special Olympics and know what it feels like to have a medal placed around your neck on the victory stand as hundreds of people cheer. But the 3-year-old Down syndrome kids can still dream and still get ready. Gen and Nick are among more than 120 children 6 months to 71/2 years of age who took part recently in a “mini-meet” at the Tri-Valley Special Olympics Games that drew more than 1,000 special-needs athletes from the area. The younger kids aren’t old enough yet to take part in the regular meet for kids and adults, ages 8 to 80, but they’re being groomed for the future in a new program that is broadening Special Olympics’ reach. That’s why Tri-Valley Special Olympics, which covers the San Fernando Valley area – from Agoura and Calabasas to Burbank and Glendale – is kicking off its new pilot program for young special athletes. “We had a lot of parents, like Matt and Miriam, ask us why there were no programs for younger children to get them ready for Special Olympics,” said Jan Meseda, regional director for Tri-Valley Special Olympics. “So we’re kicking off a new pilot program for special athletes ages 2 to 7 to strengthen their physical development and self-esteem by training them for future sports participation and socialization.” Bringing younger children into the Special Olympics family also helps parents, Dumas said. “I can’t stress how much of a benefit this program will be, not only for our kids but for their parents as well,” he said. “The more people you know in your situation, the more you learn. We have a pretty extensive network of other parents who have children Nick’s age, but this gives us the chance to talk to the parents of older kids and get advice from them. “They’ve been where we are now. We’ve got a lot to learn from them.” And their kids have a lot to learn from the older kids and adults taking part in Special Olympics. Like how it feels up there on the victory stand with that medal around your neck and hundreds of people cheering. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. [email protected] (818) 713-3749160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more