Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Aaron Younkin

#50for50: Volume 43
▪️ Aaron Younkin
▪️ 45 years old
▪️ Somerset County

“I got involved 35 years ago. I just wanted to get involved in Special Olympics and when I got my first-place medal, I was so proud. I do swimming, track, golf and bowling. Track & Field was the first sport I did. I did the running and the shot put, where you throw a ball and see how far you can throw the ball. And I got first place. That was at Somerset High School. Don’t be afraid and try to do your best. Don’t let anybody tell you can’t do anything, because you can do it if you try. … [In 1998], I was inducted into the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame. I was glad to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It made me feel proud and made me feel amazing. I didn’t know if I was going to get in, but I was so glad to see Joe Paterno there when he gave me my medal and they had Hall of Fame music and stuff. It was an amazing evening and I’ll never forget it. I got a letter in the mail and my mom told me I was going to be inducted into the Special Olympics Hall of Fame and my heart dropped. I couldn’t have done it without my friends’ and family’s support. … One of my favorite memories is when me and my dad both golfed up at Penn State. I hit a tree and he had to re-hit the ball. I looked back at dad and we both laughed at it. And it wasn’t too bad of a shot, either. [That memory] is close to my heart every time I look back at it. We had a good father-and-son relationship. We never fought or anything. He was a good person and everyone around him loved him. My dad and mom, they’re good people. I love them just the same. … My favorite sport would be bowling. My best score is 145. It was our competition day and I got first place out of it. I like the strikes. There’s a saying in bowling, ‘You have your good days and bad days.’ There are days where I get a gutter ball and I just shake it off and say, ‘it’ll get better.’ And it does get better. … If you want to get involved, there’s people out there who can help you get involved in Special Olympics. Once you’re in Special Olympics, you can never get out of it. My mom’s been in Special Olympics for a long time, so she comes and supports whenever she can for me. Once you get to a Special Olympics event, the crowd just goes crazy. It’s very nice to hear the crowd cheering you on. That’s what Special Olympics is about. Every time we get a medal, we wave to the crowd. Volunteers, they give their time out to come to our events, and we as athletes, we understand what they do and they understand what we do. They’re very happy to see you. They’re caring. The volunteers are really important. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t have anything going on.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Jessica Flacinski

#50for50: Volume 42
▪️ Jessica Flacinski
▪️ 24 years old
▪️ Elk County

“Singing is my passion. I like to put my voice to use. When I was young, I didn’t speak for the longest time. But then, all of sudden, I started learning words through singing. I sing the Star-Spangled Banner for the swimming events at Bradford. I’ve been doing that for about five years. I sang Annie as well, at the Community Theater. Fiddler on the Roof, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, The Sound of Music. I love Rogers & Hammerstein and I love Disney. Usually, somebody is my buddy on stage and it’s very fun. In high school, they told me to come to the tryouts for chorus. Mom never realized I’d be allowed to do it, but Mr. Brooks and Mr. G told me to go and try out. Some nights I was practicing up until 10 at night. I learned the choreography and I’d dance or sing or do background vocals. Then, during my senior year of high school, I sang ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’ acapella in front of the whole school. When I was done, everyone stood up and I got a standing ovation. … I was seven years old when I first started running. I was doing track and field. I have a video from that event. It’s set to music and I play it every chance I get. We have bowling and bocce. Track and field. We have softball throw. I love bowling and basketball. Last summer was my first time at Summer Games. It was fun. I was thinking ‘I’m going to sleep over this week.’ I played cards. We got to play softball throw and I cheered for Amanda. Everybody was falling on the floor laughing. I had fun. … I work at school now. At Elk County Catholic. I do the tables. I clean them and pick up the trash. We got trained in school to wash tables. The school district would pay us to wash tables every day. We practiced sophomore year, junior year we had the job and senior year we did it without supervision. Before this, I worked at Best Western and I was there without a coach. But then they had a furlough because of COVID. I also go to AHC and learn skills. I learn to write my name, learn to cross streets, learn walking, learn about money, filling out papers, handwashing and all that. We play pool on Wednesdays and I go to McDonald’s for lunch on Thursday. We go on picnics, go to the park, go to the Kinzua Bridge, the Parker Dam. So I definitely keep busy. On Saturday we had a big picnic. Everybody took an outdoor chair and sat around the fire. … One of my favorite things to do is pictures. I do very fine, detailed colored pictures. Color by numbers. I love to keep organized. And I keep mom organized, too. I’m a great grocery shopper. I know exactly where everything is. So, we’re keeping busy. We have a list of everything we have to do and we take one or two things every day and we get them done.”

As told by Jessica & her mom, Caroline.

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Sue Ann Jacobs

#50for50: Volume 41
▪️ Sue Ann Jacobs
▪️ 63 years old
▪️ Area P

“I first started hearing about Special Olympics when [my son] Nathan was in middle school. We tried a variety of things. He was two years behind his grade level. He didn’t go to middle school until he was 13, but we insisted he be allowed to participate in the school’s ski program. We were all skiers and we figured that would help him and teach him to maybe ski differently than we could. It was pretty disastrous. They didn’t really teach the athletes how to ski. They just pushed them from one instructor to the other. So soon after, we signed Nathan up for a Special Olympics swimming program in our area. That first year I just was on the sidelines, helping where I could. I got in the pool and stuff but didn’t have the necessary certifications to be a volunteer. Then the next year, I got certified in swimming and I’ve been involved for 16 years. It’s really rewarding. When our athletes first came, we had one or two who could doggie paddle on their own and now we’ve got some really good distance swimmers. Whatever your kids are involved in, that’s what you’re involved in. And Nathan is still involved in Special Olympics at 31. … [My husband] Doug and I started to get involved with skiing as well. Then I signed on to coach bocce and Doug started with golf and bowling. It’s Nathan’s social life. It’s his fun, it’s his friends, it’s who he would be with anyway. To have him doing something productive is great. … Our son’s not really a competitive person. He’s thrilled, but he would never show it. When they got picked to go to Nationals I’ve never seen a reaction like I did out of Nathan. He burst into tears and almost didn’t understand what was happening. He knew he was being considered, but it just shows you how the thought processes and what people do is very different in how it comes out. … Being at the USA Games was fantastic. In Seattle, when they came in for the Opening Ceremonies, Nathan was waving to everybody so hard. It was just, the excitement he was feeling just warmed my heart. Seeing his excitement, that’s why I do it. … I’ve been doing the Sports & Competition Coordinator job for seven or eight years. There’s a demand on you, but we just keep doing it and supporting it because it’s so rewarding to see the excitement and fun and accomplishment. This COVID stuff has really, really hurt. Nathan’s life has been totally put on hold. When we weren’t allowed to even train within ourselves for being high risk, he took it really hard. But we’ve been doing the at-home training for bocce. We go to the park and it’s small and there’s not anybody there. If there’s not going to be winter sports, it’s gonna be pretty hard. Everything’s on hold right now and we’re really isolated. … We’ll do Special Olympics as long as we can. In our Pike County part of Area P, we all know each other pretty well. It’s a great thing to do for the whole year. Whatever season we’re in the athletes will always say that’s their favorite. We love it, I love it. There’s many times we’ve said Nathan is a blessing to us and there are many times he’s been a blessing to others. We can’t wait for it to come back in person.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Hillary McFadden

#50for50: Volume 40
▪️ Hillary McFadden
▪️ 36 years old
▪️ Area M

“One year I wanted to do speed skating and I was at school. I was 16 at the time. But then they said, ‘Well no, you can’t do that. You’re blind.’ And I said, ‘Alright, that’s it. I’m not doing it.’ But then I went to this program where I learned how to deal with blindness and they said I could do anything I want to do, the sky’s the limit. So when I was 17, I asked again if I could do speed skating. And they said, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Well sure I can!’ So we fought for it. Me and my mom, we fought for it. And I signed up and suddenly I was part of the team. It was exciting. It was really exciting, uplifting. It’s great. I feel free on the ice. It’s like I’m zooooom, really fast. ‘That is amazing, I can’t even do that,’ they say. That makes me feel really good. When I skate, someone skates backwards in front of me and tells me where to go. … I was blind ever since an infant. I was born premature. I weighed only one pound, a little over a pound and seven or eight ounces. By the time I was five, I had my eyes removed because of complications from surgery, and so they removed them and now I have these. It’s good. If it weren’t for the surgery, I wouldn’t have been skating today. I also have high-functioning ASD, which they used to call Asperger syndrome. … When I was 20 or 21, I started winning gold medals. My favorite memory is when I first learned to read braille and I started picking it up. Now I have a business where I make braille menus for restaurants that need them. And another favorite memory is when I first learned Spanish. I speak Spanish. Hablo Español. … We have a rule on our team that is ‘SEA.’ It stands for Sportsmanship, Effort, Attitude. That’s the acronym. And I think it’s neat. I don’t know what I want to do eventually, but hopefully I’ll still be in Special Olympics.”