Last week I had an opportunity to visit with some very special, “Special Needs” kids as they enjoyed an evening of fun at Harmony Bowl in Colorado Springs. I was in awe as I watched the determination of those who needed help to just pick up their ball and roll it, toss it with two hands or push it with one finger, while others labored up to the starting line in their wheelchairs. Their resolve was incredible. But they all had one thing in common, big smiles and happy laughter. What an introduction to the coolest league in town, the Cool Cats Special Olympics Bowling League.
I asked their coach “Ashley” what prompted her to develop this program. “It was created from a snowball effect of disappointment. My daughter Avalee was born with Cerebral Palsy and Autism. Exercise and stretching is an important part of her routine. My dad, who works with Special Needs adults in South Dakota, encouraged me to start the program. He developed “West River Powerlifters” where he coached one of his athletes to the Special Olympics World Cup in 2019. It has been incredible to watch what he created.”
“A few years ago my daughter became of ‘competing age’. My goal for her was to be a part of that community. However, when I asked about getting her involved my only option was an all-adult special needs team. I wanted her to have fun with kids her own age. My reaction – if a young athletes team is not available then let’s create one.”
“I found a schedule of sports for the upcoming season and saw bowling. Avalee and I discussed a team name and colors for their t-shirts, it was a fun process for us to do together. Her favorite animal is a cat so I chose to make that into an acronym of “Children of All Types Succeeding”. I reached out to fellow special needs moms within my community and started bowling practice. We are now in our 2nd season and have grown from 9 kids to 26. The experience is overwhelming.”
“My daughter loves to ride her adaptive bike. So when bowling season ended we embarked on a new endeavor. Once again, after checking the rules and regulations for cycling with Special Olympics, I was met with disappointment. So once again I reached out to friends within the community to help develop a “Junior Adaptive Cycling Team“. In August our team was the very first to compete in the State Summer Games!”
I would encourage anyone who needs to smile come watch these kids in action. Their faces light up when they join each other, “to see the parents beam with pride, their children gain confidence, awareness and independence, continues to leave me speechless,” stated Ashley. “I am just a special needs mom myself, but when I see moms with tears of joy as they watch their kids peddle their bikes for the very first time – independently, I am moved. Caring for a Special Needs child is exhausting. The unspoken mutual respect I have for these parents is incredible; we’ve all cried many tears of despair. Now we celebrate accomplishments we thought would never come. The special needs community and the Cool CATS family are much bigger than I can put into words.”
Kudos to Ashley and the Cool Cats Kids! We at 4kidzsports will be helping to support these kids and their needs through upcoming fundraising programs. Please follow us and support them in this great cause.