It’s About Equality and Unity
“Not everyone has the opportunity to do this,” says Kayla, who has been volunteering with Special Olympics since she was in sixth-grade. “It’s really something special.”
Kayla Watson (right) started volunteering with Special Olympics at 11 years old and now feels closer to her brother Dusty (left) who has been a Special Olympics athlete since the 8th grade.
Never Too Young to Give Back
Kayla Watson was only 11 years old when she started volunteering with Special Olympics. She got started setting up wheelchair races at the local Spring Games, then went on to helping athletes with everything from their lunches to their speeches. As she got older, she kept finding new ways to work with more Special Olympics sports and more athletes — as volunteer, youth coach/chaperone and as a unified partner. “It’s so great to be able to help someone – to give back to my community and also to bring a smile to someone’s face,” says Kayla.
One goal has been to bring Special Olympics to a wider audience, so she has been working to establish Special Olympics Project UNIFY® at two local high schools, planning games and events that can bring together young people both with and without intellectual disabilities. She’s also become a basketball coach – as well as making time to team up for Unified Sports events with one of her favorite athletes, her older brother, Dusty.
Bringing Her Closer to Her Brother
Dusty has been with Special Olympics since the eighth grade – and it’s helped him find many different ways to succeed. Dusty was only a few weeks old when he had his first seizure; he has since been diagnosed with microcephaly, intractable seizure disorder, developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder, among other things. Now 20 years old, Dusty trains and competes in track, basketball and volleyball; he especially loves to play unified volleyball with Kayla. In Kayla’s words, “It’s really helped unite us as a family.”
“Kayla has been there to push Dusty when it was needed and help him when it was needed,” says their mom, Amy. “She has given so much of her time, energy and herself – because she really wants to make a difference – for Dusty and for all the other athletes.”
More Than Just Sports
Dusty and Kayla have also been teaming up as Global Messengers, advocating for the sports, education and health services provided by Special Olympics and talking about how this work transforms classrooms, communities and lives. The brother-and-sister team from North Carolina recently took their pitch to Washington, D.C., where they spoke with lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill.
Kayla says Special Olympics offers a vision of the world that we all want to live in: “It’s all about equality and unity, no matter what your ability or disability might be.” She says it’s also a lot of fun – especially coaching. “Coaching is great, because our athletes are so excited to learn new things – maybe more excited than a lot of people.”
As Kayla looks ahead to college in the fall, she is grateful for the time she’s been able to give to Special Olympics. “Not everyone has the opportunity to do this,” she says. “It’s really something special.”