Chris Boddie was born two and a half months premature. His mother, Vicki Douglas, was losing fluid and was told her baby had to be delivered immediately.

Chris Boddie was born two and a half months premature. His mother, Vicki Douglas, was losing fluid and was told her baby had to be delivered immediately.

"I was scared out of my mind," she said.

Boddie was born with congenital rubella, totally blind and deaf. His mother was told by doctors that her son would never walk or talk.

But she remained hopeful. At 2 months old, her son had cataract surgery and over time he was able to gain some vision. With a hearing aid, her son is able to hear a bit too, though he mostly communicates through sign language. When he was 7, Douglas enrolled Boddie at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, where she was able to see marked improvements in her son’s development.

It was at the Texas School for the Deaf when Boddie first became involved in Special Olympics.

"He was on the swim team and basketball, which really surprised us because with his vision I was so worried that he wouldn’t be able to do it," Douglas said. "And they just put him right out there and said, ‘It’s OK, Vicki; we’ll figure it out.’ … And he loved it."

Getting plugged in

Boddie is 29 now and aged out of the TSD program a few years ago. It sent Douglas scrambling, desperate to find some way to get her son plugged into the community, specifically on a Special Olympics team. Asking around, she wasn’t able to find anything to get her son involved with.

"I thought, ‘This is frustrating. There’s got to be something more local than driving all the way to Dallas,’" Douglas said. "’… I know good and well that there’s more than just Chris with special needs in this county.’"

Getting individuals with special needs involved in a Special Olympics team is essential to their well-being, and not just for their physical health, Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Cara Prideaux said.

"There are so many benefits on many different levels of being involved in sports," she said. "… The health benefits for anyone participating in a sport include cardiovascular, so heart, lung fitness and obviously the positive impact on weight control with the participation in sport activities. It helps improve mental health, self-esteem, confidence, that type of thing."

This was something Sherman resident Beatrice Kelly said happened to her children once they became involved with Special Olympics. Her son Sean and daughter Amber are both intellectually disabled. She said her son has more confidence now and is able to take on responsibilities. For her daughter Amber, the organization’s impact had a deeper effect.

"She was very quiet, very reserved," Kelly said. "She was not able to show any sort of love at all. Love scared her. But when she got involved in Special Olympics, and all the camaraderie that’s involved with it, it started pulling her out of this shell and now she can show love. … It’s something 10 years of therapy couldn’t do. But Special Olympics and the camaraderie she had with all of the individuals around her, that helped her a lot."

Benefits and challenges

Prideaux specifically said being involved in Special Olympics activities helps these athletes make friends, become more confident and develop social and communication skills.

"Once they become active in these types of Special Olympic activities, they often change their lifestyle and pursue physical fitness as more of a lifestyle change, which benefits them in the long run as well," Prideaux said. "There’s no reason not to get involved."

She said, however, there are challenges to overcome to get more individuals with special needs active in Special Olympics.

"We definitely have a long ways to go in getting people to participate more," she said.

Founder of the local adult Special Olympics team — the Sherman Shooting Stars — Katie Gresham agreed and said there was some stigma to overcome to getting more athletes involved.

"They (the athletes) say, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore, I’m tired,’" Gresham said. "Because they’ve heard somebody else say, ‘You shouldn’t be doing Special Olympics anymore, look how old you are.’ But my oldest athlete is 72. … I can’t imagine Special Olympics without him."

Kelly has seen this doubt firsthand as well. She said sometimes the community has a negative reaction when it sees these athletes out practicing.

"Really these athletes have to overcome that, and they do it quite nicely and quite easily with the love that they show," Kelly said. "I have not seen one special needs individual that when you get past that barrier of insecurity that hasn’t got the love that God has given to us."

Filling a need

Eventually, Douglas was able to find the Sherman Shooting Stars for her son, and she and Boddie attended the first bowling practice the Shooting Stars held. Gresham said she expected 10 or 12 participants to show up at this practice, and ended up with more than 20. They’ve been growing ever since, and now she says she has more than 50 athletes involved.

"Special Olympics is more than just sports," Gresham said. "That’s what we do and that’s how we get our medals, but it’s more than a sport. It’s investing in their lives."

The importance of having something for these individuals to do was apparent to Douglas, who spent a few years working at a group home for individuals with special needs. She noticed a lack of programs available to get the residents there active or involved in social activities.

"There just wasn’t anything for them to do and then having Chris, I was like, ‘This isn’t right,’" Douglas said.

Since getting Boddie involved, Douglas said she’s seen marked improvements in her son as he found an outlet for his energy and a way to make friends.

"Chris loves to meet people and that’s the way it is with all them," Douglas said, her eyes filling with tears. "They all love coming together every week for practice, and saying ‘Hi’ and telling you about what they did for the week and what they did for practice."

Boddie agreed, saying he enjoys meeting the other athletes and seeing the accomplishments of his hard work.

"I have all my awards on my wall," he said proudly.

Athlete Sean Kelly said his favorite part is meeting new people too, and he enjoys getting to help his team and help Gresham set up and watch the other athletes.

"I like basketball, bowling, boccie and tennis," he said. "I love track and field too. In Tyler, when I lived in a group home, we had a Special Olympics there, and I tried out for swimming. And I got first in my division and second in area."

Kelly and Douglas said some parents of individuals with special needs might feel as if they have to protect and guard their children from any outside judgment. It’s something to overcome, and parents will be glad they did, they said.

"The parent who keeps their child isolated is doing their child a great injustice," Kelly said. "Because whether that child is an actual child or an adult child, either way if they sit on the couch and do nothing, they have no potential in life. They don’t have a life. But if they can get them involved in Special Olympics, because in Sherman that’s a year-round program, they can pull them out of this shell they get into. And they are able to become adults that are worth being around. I love being around them."