Introduction- As an individual with an NVLD I strongly believe IEP teams need to make a few changes to how they set up for inclusion. One change that needs to be made is encouraging full inclusion in sports. Yes, I understand for many students with disabilities like NVLD team sports would be hard but individual sports can most certainly be included. So my goal for this piece is for you to understand why I feel this way as too many students are missing out on forming wonderful mentors and benefitting from all the wonderful things that being a teammate brings.
To JA- I graduated from high school almost two twenty years ago and I continue to think about how you were among the first to completely understand me. What I mean by this is that you always pushed me to do my best and you encouraged me to be more humorous which has always been a hidden strength of mine. I will always value the conversations and laughs we had together. It really makes me question so often why inclusion in sports is so rare as our wonderful friendship sets the tone that it doesn’t need to be. Your coaching made me realize, the only requirements to be part of a team are to always do your best and to have fun during the process. What is extra special to me though is how you and your family are still an important part of my life.
To PS- When I first started running for you I only ran exhibition sprint races which at the time did make me feel a little segregated as I knew I wasn’t helping the team in these races. However, these feelings changed when you recommended I join Cross-Country. This was the best advice you could have possibly given. You and Jim became my biggest supporters. In addition to being able to run at least one regular distance race every meet, receiving four awards during my winter and spring track careers speaks volumes about how inclusion in sports is so successful if you are willing to listen, work hard, and be a great teammate. So to me, it is so disappointing when the IEP teams say NVLD students can’t be included in sports like track. As many say there are several events we can’t do but the truth is we most certainly can do them if we are willing to try. It just requires a few extra steps to make that happen such as training for Cross-country and I am so grateful to you for telling me this over 20 years ago. Today you are still such a special person to me.
To DJ- Having you as my first track coach was a big reason why we decided to give Winter Track a try as it seemed like a perfect combination of having my gym teacher and a resource room teacher as coaches. This truly was a huge help, especially during high school as you encouraged me to try different events, and using your teaching techniques in your coaching led me to be willing to run whatever race was needed even if it was at a moment’s notice. You truly showed my family that inclusion was valued on the track team and you became not only a great mentor to me but also a wonderful friend to my mom.
To JC- Our special connection shows how inclusion in sports really works. For example, you understood my slower times and you introduced your team to me and as a result, many of them became great friends. You showed me at every meeting that running is a very inclusive sport and that more people need to see that. What I remember the most is how you said many times that running is all about doing your best. What was really special though is how you have been a mentor to me just as much as my own coaches were.
Ending-So please start encouraging full inclusion in sports as there is so much more to being a student than just academics. Students with an NVLD and similar disabilities are missing out on some great experiences. Being an athlete can increase your self-confidence and social communication skills in so many ways through the wonderful interactions you have with your teammates, coaches, and officials too. Therefore, more NVLD students should be having this experience as they will see a real difference in their overall development. No, it isn’t always easy but academics are hard too and I believe by trying this your experiences will be life-changing as you will notice how much having regular personal connections leads to greater happiness.
Eileen is a Project Social Ambassador and blogger for The NVLD Project. She loves helping others understand they can achieve their goals and dreams through hard work and dedication.