Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Emily Preston

#50for50: Volume 47
▪️ Emily Preston
▪️ 31 years old
▪️ Tioga County

“I used to live in Ithaca, New York. That’s where it all started. I was seven years old and I wasn’t speaking much and my mom saw this program to promote speech and it was for children with autism and Down syndrome, too. It was in Key Largo and I swam with dolphins. It was so fun when they pushed me and the dolphins used their nose to push my legs. It was so fun. I’m a famous movie star, too. I’m on Animal Planet, on Wild Rescue, because when I was there they chose to film me because I was so excited. I sometimes watch it on VHS. I loved swimming with the dolphins. … I’ve been swimming for a long time. It makes me feel happy. We play games like ‘shark in the middle’ at practice. Even before Special Olympics I knew some basic swimming skills. I had no fear. My favorite stroke is the freestyle and I can kind of do the butterfly real well. And I’m getting better at backstroke. I also did basketball, tennis, bowling, bocce and skiing. And biking. I’m pretty athletic. We used to go to Hofstra University and I liked the dances. And now I sometimes get to go to Penn State. I can’t wait for my favorite sport, basketball, to come back. I do 5-on-5 sometimes. I’m pretty good. Sometimes my friends pass me the ball on 5-on-5. … I work every day at Partners in Progress in Mansfield. It’s a non-profit facility for special needs people. I go there and clean, I go to a life skills house. We go in the community to different stores and venues. We went pumpkin picking and apple picking and we learn about using money and all that stuff. At the end we do ‘Scene It’ games, especially one of my favorite ones, Disney. I’ve been to Disney lots of times. Magic Kingdom is my favorite part. And Frozen and Frozen II are my favorite movies. My goal at work is I have to walk one lap around my work area. Sometimes I ride a bike, sometimes I have friends to walk with me. … I’ve been walking with my mom and my friends, too. I enjoy walking with my mom. It’s fun. I have a cat named Hashbrown and I have a boyfriend. We met through Special Olympics. And I love my older brother and going to camp [Camp Horizons in Connecticut]. I also really love Broadway shows and fishing and hunting with my dad.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: Kristine Progin

#50for50: Volume 46
▪️ Kristine Progin
▪️ 45 years old
▪️ Lebanon County

“I’ve been with Special Olympics for over 30 years. I was 12 years old. I went to a track and field event in my home town and I’ve been involved ever since. It was just a way to meet new people and keep active. That’s why I do it now, because it keeps me active and I’m still meeting new people. I’m an Athlete Leader and a Global Messenger now. I think it’s really cool to get out there and talk to the community about Special Olympics and let people know what it’s all about. … It was funny, looking back now at Villanova [and Fall Festival], it was funny remembering how it all started ’cause I was there for the first event. It’s funny how it’s changed over the last 30 years. I still have a lot of friends from Lebanon County who, we started Special Olympics together and we’re still great friends. I coach some of them now. … I’ve played a lot of sports over the years, a lot of different sports. It’s funny how our county has grown over the years with just our number of sports we’ve done over the last 30 years, how many we’ve added. I think a lot about the first year that I played softball. That might have even been the year after I first started Special Olympics and that’s a great memory. Just starting out and seeing where I’ve come from there. … I now play volleyball and tennis and, of course, coach floor hockey. My dad had coached for years, so I sort of knew what it was all about. I think that’s why I wanted to coach, because he and my mom had both coached before. You gotta come out and see what it’s all about. I’m always trying to recruit new Unified players for our floor hockey team. I had a young man who came to watch his brother and I told him, ‘You know, we’re going to be losing some people next year, you should come out.’ And he said, ‘Oh, this is too easy.’ Well, by the end of the day he realized it wasn’t as easy as he thought and he thinks he might come out next year to check it out.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: James Shelton

#50for50: Volume 45
▪️ James Shelton
▪️ 30 years old
▪️ Philadelphia County

“Basketball? Oh, wow. I love basketball. Every time I seen it on TV when we were young — my favorite player was [Allen] Iverson, I liked his moves and everything — I was like, ‘I gotta find something to get into basketball ’cause I know I can play basketball.’ Next thing you know, I’m a basketball player. I heard about Special Olympics ’cause I go to a program where we hang out, go to the mall and stuff and just be active and talk instead of sitting around. We go to the gym. And someone there told me about it and asked what’s my favorite sport? One time we went to a picnic and there were some players from Temple [University] there. I was shooting the ball back and forth and they said, ‘If you make this 3-point shot, I’ll give you one of my team jerseys.’ Next thing you know, I jumped up, shot the ball and ‘bam!’ it went right in. I said, ‘who’s the best now?’ and he gave me a team jersey and every time I see that jersey I be so happy. … I live right by Kensington. It’s just too crazy to be walking around here. People on drugs, people laying on the sidewalk. Homeless people. Seeing people out here like this is so sad. So I just be in the house and make my ride to go somewhere or go chill with my girlfriend. They be shooting around here, too. All this stuff on the news. That’s why I don’t walk around. If I want to go somewhere, I catch paratransit. It’ll take me anywhere I want to go. Every time I get on, they be so happy to see me. I know how it works out here. I’m not trying to do nothing bad. That’s why I got Special Olympics. … When we were young, we used to be around my dad the whole time. Then, OK, my mom left the earth but grandma took us in and then I don’t know. We was going back and forth with grandma and then daddy, but for some reason daddy disappeared. He was still around, but we just didn’t see him. Then a few days later, like right now, my cousin called me and said my sister’s on Facebook. And my dad, too. And I thought, ‘do I really want to look him up? It’s been so long since I’ve been seeing you or said your name.’ So I was just calm and everything and I just said, ‘Let me see.’ I just went on and said ‘hey daddy,’ and we all got in contact back again. That was it. It felt good, talking about it. Just get it off your chest or something. You want to tell people what happened, what’s going on. … I got friends everywhere I go. It’s not hard to make friends with me. I get along with anybody. I’m nice, calm. I don’t like to fight or do drama. I’m good. And I’m funny, too. I get some stuff off of TV. And I just tell it to somebody and they start laughing. I like Martin, that’s like my No. 1 laughing show right there. So if I meet somebody, I be like, ‘Yo, what’s up?’ and we start cracking jokes and we start laughing and next thing you know, we’re friends. There was a cookie club in school where we made chocolate chip cookies. I like to cook. They were buying them cookies like crazy. I said, ‘You know why they’re buying them like this? Cause I made them!’ You know how people out here got different emotions? Some people hate people, some people like people. You know how it is. I see all this stuff going on in the world, so I’m like ‘Nope, that’s not me.’ I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person.”

Special Olympics Pennsylvania #50for50: John Paxton

#50for50: Volume 44
▪️ John Paxton
▪️ 28 years old
▪️ Lebanon County

“In 2015 I moved down here. I was originally born in Harrisburg. I lived over there for a majority of my life, but now I’m in Lebanon. I first got started with Special Olympics when I was in school. We did fun track activities and competitions at Messiah College. And used to do stuff at East Penn and Dickinson College. Then, after school, I got even more involved. I started with bowling and then did volleyball, floor hockey, basketball, track and softball. My first impressions were that it was really cool and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. That’s what started it all. I enjoyed being around friends and making new friends, seeing other schools and delegations and just doing different events. … I found myself becoming more athletic through this. Since I started, especially with volleyball, I kind of picked up and learned more of it. I had to work on my serving, setting and bumping on the ball and it was very interesting because it gives you an opportunity to learn new things. My first Fall Fest was for volleyball. Both Fall Fest and Summer Games were very awesome experiences. As an athlete, you’re always wondering what those events are like. It made me realize how much more excitement there was in each of those events. … One of my favorites is floor hockey. When I started playing floor hockey, I used different hockey sticks, but in Special Olympics we use straight sticks. It was kind of interesting to see those. I never played that way but it turned out pretty good. I’m pretty good at trying to keep defending the net so it doesn’t go into the goal. My goal is to one day be goalie for floor hockey. … After my dad passed away, I had a little bit of a rough moment there. But the whole team stuck together and that’s what got me more motivated to be together with the team. I was at competition in February, 2019 and my mom got a call that my dad wasn’t doing too good. They had to come to my competition and come and let me know. I wanted to play. I didn’t want to let my team down. But I went to go and see my dad. Later the team gave me an award for that — because I didn’t want to leave — I wanted to keep it together and be strong for my team. After that, it just compelled me to understand more about what it means to be a teammate. So through that experience, it got me more supportive of cheering the team on to do well. Being a good teammate just means sticking together and being one team and cheering each other on and supporting everyone if they have a bad day. Just keep them motivated and keep their spirits up. Even on their good days, just say ‘Hey, look, you did a good job today. I think you did awesome.’ By doing that, I feel like I’m supportive of everyone. We all try to help each other out when needed.”

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.”