Three years ago Champions Together was merely a concept between Indiana High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Indiana. Since then, Director Lee Lonzo, comedian Craig Tornquist and Special Olympics Global Messenger Andrew Peterson have traveled to 75 high schools across the state. Here’s what radio personality Adam Ritz had to say after witnessing a respect rally at Bremen High School.
Champions Together is not only a grassroots effort for positive social change through sport, it’s an effort that students are pushing to other students.
This isn’t a bunch of high-browed adults telling the kids to do this because the adults believe such action will make their schools and communities better; rather, it’s kids genuinely wanting to do this because the kids know it will make their schools and communities better.
Cementing the students’ hunger is the 23-year-old Andrew Peterson, who overcame the hurdles posed by his intellectual disabilities caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to earn four varsity letters in cross-country at Charles Tindley High School in Indianapolis, take home three gold medals at the Special Olympics USA Games and, perhaps most impressively, become the face and voice of the Champions Together movement.
It was Peterson who, on my trip out to Bremen, had everyone in the auditorium hanging on his every word. No disrespect to Tornquist— he did his part to warm up the crowd and give an informative introduction of the program— but when Peterson took the podium, that’s when everyone truly started listening.
In a slickly-delivered and emotionally-charged 15-minute address, Peterson, who endured six years of speech therapy, a decade of physical therapy and a lifetime of fighting to be accepted for the individual that he is, epitomized the courage that Special Olympics is all about.
Cementing the students’ hunger is the 23-year-old Andrew Peterson.
Reader, I cannot lie— the guy had me crying, sniffling, rubbing the fog off the viewfinder of my camera.
“When you actually have someone come and speak from their personal experience of it… It sort of brings it to real life for people because they see that they can really make a difference in a Special Olympian’s life,” explains Bremen senior and Bethel College cross-country/track commit Sara Slabaugh.
“Peterson’s saying how he used to get made fun of when he was younger, and these kids can realize that sometimes that does happen around our school but we can put a stop to it.”
But when it comes to Special Olympics, it’s a two-way street. It takes the courage of an Andrew to work years in therapy to become a champion for his cause, to tune out all the snickering and name-calling and consciously choose to be brave instead, but it also takes courage on behalf of non-disabled counterparts as well.
I cannot lie— the guy had me crying, sniffling, rubbing the fog off the viewfinder of my camera.
To read more about Andrew’s journey from neglected child to powerful advocate, click here:
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold