A Special Olympic Experience for Julia Steinman

Julia-steinman-2014Obstacles are part of daily life for the parents of children with disabilities, and the family of 23-year-old Julia Steinman is no different.

Too many times, Lexington native Julia Steinman, who has Down syndrome, and her family have felt “thwarted by roadblocks and limitations that cause restless frustration to the family,” said Meg Steinman, Julia’s mother.

But for one week this summer, all of those frustrations disappeared. Julia competed in New Jersey at the Special Olympics National competition, which is held every four years.

Julia, a bowler, and 38 other athletes from around the state represented team Kentucky at the National level of the Special Olympics. These athletes included gymnasts, swimmers, basketball players and bowlers.

Getting to the National level is no easy accomplishment. First, you must qualify by placing at the regional level. From there, athletes compete at the state level where only the top three advance. By earning a gold medal at the State level, Julia received her bid to Nationals in December 2012.

The journey to Nationals began in March when all 38 Kentucky athletes met together for the first time in Louisville. There, they began training as a team.

In June, the team met in Louisville again and flew to Philadelphia. The team traveled to Princeton University where they stayed on campus.

The Opening Ceremonies at the Prudential Center in Newark was a highlight of the experience, Meg said.

“Kids with cognitive delays are always told it can’t be done, but for one week they are told it can be done. It was wonderful,” Meg said.

While in New Jersey the athletes were treated as special guests. During the week, the athletes attended a Trenton Thunder minor league baseball game, strolled the “Boardwalk” (a replica of the iconic seaside attraction located in Olympic Town at Princeton) and hopped aboard a leisure boat for a dinner cruise around the island of Manhattan and past the Statue of Liberty.

And the dinner? It was served by members of Homeland Security.

With all of the fun, there were of course still Olympic games to be played. On Monday, Julia had three practice games to prepare her for the week ahead. The following day, Julia earned bronze as an individual. Wednesday, she took silver as a pair with her teammate, and Thursday took silver again with her team of four.

On Friday, the Closing Ceremonies were at Trenton, New Jersey, where the athletes were awarded and had their opportunities to say their emotional goodbyes. The Steinman family was moved by the whole experience.

“I wish everyone could experience this. The cause if so wonderful and so very rewarding,” Meg said.

Julia and the Kentucky team had a blast participating in the games. “She didn’t want to be with us,” said Meg, “that’s telling. She always had a smile on her face – not only her but all the athletes. She was very happy to be with the team.”