Girl Scout Jillian knows that when communities come together, everyone wins! To earn her Gold Award, Jillian helped athletes with intellectual disabilities train for the YMCA Special Olympics Triathlon. To get them to the finish line, she taught the athletes how to warm up properly before exercising and participating in races through a four-week training program leading up to the triathlon.
After volunteering for two years at the Spencer Family “My Turn to Tri,” Jillian noticed a lack of inclusivity of those with intellectual disabilities in sports. Jillian chose to make a difference by creating equal opportunities in athletics training for people with intellectual disabilities, knowing it would “not only encourage equality in sports but also help promote healthy living habits,” she says.
She worked to support athletes with intellectual disabilities by approaching the YMCA and showed her training program to the Special Olympics and the greater children with intellectual disabilities community. Jillian continued to market her program by contacting the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh, Miracle League of Pittsburgh, the Autism Society, and consulting with staff and teachers at her school. After putting flyers up at the YMCA, Jillian attracted many athletes to participate in her program.
Jillian tapped into the greater Special Olympics community, attending swim and track practices, where she learned how to best advertise her workouts, which eventually became free-of-charge and reached a large audience.
Along the way, Jillian learned much about what it takes to lead. She worked with volunteers, guiding them as they taught the planned exercises and instructed every athlete. Through this, Jillian utilized several leadership skills, all of which helped her program’s success, including time management, team building, communication, collaboration, and flexibility. Jillian’s experience and the lessons she learned built her confidence and helped her realize her ability to tackle challenges. She explains, “The biggest thing I learned about myself was my ability to instruct the class. At first, I was very nervous to be in front of the class because of my fear of public speaking, but after the first class, I surprised myself with my ability to do so.”
Jillian’s efforts to guide athletes with intellectual disabilities along their journey made a positive impact within the community and helped set each athlete up for success. She explains that while the athletes learned how to properly train, they gained listening skills and ways to be more supportive of other participants, too.
Jillian recalls the most successful part of her program. She explains the biggest reward was the community she was able to foster. “The satisfaction the athletes got out of the class … Each time they looked forward to the class they were able to form friendships with other athletes. At the triathlon, all the athletes cheered for each other.”
Though Gold Award Girl Scout Jillian’s project has come to an end, her workout plans—including stretches, warm-ups, exercises, and more—will remain at the YMCA and will be incorporated into existing workout classes. She’s now working with the YMCA to help set up monthly workout classes for athletes with intellectual disabilities, where they can become a part of a long-lasting community, build strength, and prepare for whatever comes their way.