My name is Patty Haake and I have overcome obstacles that most people only face in nightmares. Every day was a walking nightmare when I was growing up. My classmates ridiculed me. They teased me. They called me Retard and bullied me until I cried. Then they bullied me some more. I had no friends. No moral support. No love. I was completely alone with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company. Sad enough, they weren’t very good company either. If you are told something enough, you eventually believe it. Something was wrong with me. Why else would they steal my clothes and throw them in the showers during PE. Why else would they make faces and hand gestures behind my back and laugh as if I were too stupid to have feelings? I was naïve and I was taken advantage of. I was a fearful retard who didn’t believe in myself enough to make a stand. Why would I? After all, I hated myself. It was simple, I was a no body. I was nothing.
Unlike so many great stories, mine doesn’t start at the beginning. Mine starts out at what should have been the end. It was going to be a Grand Finale. One I created all on my own. I was going to show the world just how lucky they would be without me. But once again, I was wrong. God did give me more than I could handle. I gave up on Him but He never gave up on me. His strong arms swept me up out of the water, held me close and decided it was time for my life to begin….not end.
“Let me win. If I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt.” That is one memo I did receive. It is the motto of my life and I pay tribute to it at the beginning of every Special Olympic event. I speak those words from my heart and bleed them from my soul.
But before I continue, I would like to thank Special Olympics. If it were not for this organization, I would not have been able to ride my scooter down to McDonald’s last week and get value meals for me and two of my friends. Now, you are probably wondering what Special Olympics has to do with my trip to McDonalds. In truth, it has everything to do with it. Special Olympics gave me the friends to buy those meals for. Special Olympics gave me the courage to ride my scooter on Carlyle Ave in Belleville . Special Olympics gave me the confidence to go in and order.
Special Olympics isn’t just about sports. It’s about building confidence, courage, self worth, compassion, and life-long friendships. It’s not just an organization but a heroic pillar which around dreams are built.
My first years were hard but I kept going. I replaced “I quit” with “I can”. Instead of giving up in the face of adversity, I learned to spit on it and persevere. I grew even stronger when I moved to Belleville and became a part of Team Cerebral Palsy in 2005. My coach was strong and taught me that self-pity parties were not allowed in Special Olympics. I became independent and found a new love within myself. I lived on my own. I paid all my own bills. I got up every morning and I went to my job. Soon, I wanted more. I decided to trade in the job and pursue a degree in Computer Administration through Southwestern Illinois College. I work hard at being a student. The classes aren’t always easy but I attack them with the same tenacity that I bring to the Special Olympics field.
I played six sports although a shoulder injury has forced me to back it down to three. Bocce ball, bowling, track and field, snowshoeing, basketball, and softball are my sports of choice. I have competed year round and made it both to Summer Games in Bloomington, IL and Winter Games in Galena, IL. Although the medals won during these events are a reminder of how physically and mentally strong I have become, they are a symbol of the person I have evolved into. I am an athlete but I am also a funny, smart, compassionate woman who has a love for life. I thrive on the cheers from the crowd and the sound of my teammates and coaches yelling my name as I cross the finish line. The high fives greet me from volunteers as the word “Congratulations” echoes in my ears. I am a winner. I feel appreciated and deserved. I never stop smiling.
Special Olympics has given me the strength to make my dreams become a reality. I have found within myself the ability to rise above and go beyond the daunting jeers of voices long ago. I have found acceptance in a world where I once felt isolated. I have found the power to believe in myself and in others.
I wanted the world to know what this organization has done for me and others just like me. I wanted to scream it from the rooftops and make my voice heard. So, I eagerly took on the opportunity to become a Global Messenger. It was an honor to be nominated and an even greater honor to be selected. Global Messengers must uphold the values of Special Olympics and I do this without faltering. Being a global messenger has opened the door to a whole other world. I am no longer afraid to speak up for myself and to make my voice heard. It has encouraged me to become more sociable and outgoing. It has been and always will be nothing short of yet another miracle in my life.
My journey has not been an easy one. I am not perfect and I still have my moments of weakness. Instead of beating myself up over those moments, I embrace them. They are a sign that I am alive and that I am only human. I still cry sometimes. Only now, for every tear- there is a laugh and for every frown, a smile. Life is good.
Oh, and I finally did get that memo. God CANNOT give me more than I can handle. I am strong. I am a believer. I am a Special Olympics Athlete. Thank you.