As the Special Olympics celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we took some time to interview Andrew Schmidt, a staff accountant based in our Owings Mills office, who has been involved with the Special Olympics since 2012. Andrew’s brother Mike started his involvement as a Special Olympics Athlete in 2006 at the age of 12, participating in sports such as softball and swimming. By 2012 Andrew and the rest of his family had all become Special Olympics Unified Sports partners which has allowed them to participate alongside Mike and has also provided them the opportunity to bond as a family.
How has being on a sports team with your family changed the family dynamic? Has it brought you guys closer together?
Being on a sports team with my family has been amazing, and a wonderful experience. We’ve grown closer through this experience, being able to fly to Seattle together and compete in the same arena has been truly special. Unified lets me bond with my older brother with special needs in a way that few other activities do.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a part of Unified Sports?
As I said before, being able to bond with and spend time with my family. Unified gave us a great opportunity to grow closer with each other and with others who have special needs. Unified also offers valuable insight into the world of people with disabilities.
What has made you want to stay on for multiple years, and how has being a part of Unified Sports shaped who you are today?
I continue to do Unified sports because it’s kind of a two-way giving relationship. I can volunteer and bring joy to the special Olympians, but in the same way, I have made many friends through the program and the special needs individuals bring me joy as well. People who live with disabilities have a unique joy about them, and it is a contagious happiness that draws you in and helps you understand a bit of who they are. This has helped shape me and helped me not to judge people based on outward appearances.
Your team just recently represented Maryland at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle – can you explain what that experience was like?
Our experience in Seattle was amazing. We competed against teams from three other states (Louisiana, Michigan, and South Carolina), and met so many amazing people through our experiences there. My family got to see a new part of the country that we hadn’t experienced before. We made so many new friends and strengthened our existing friendships with our Special Olympics family.
What is some advice you would give to someone who has just recently become a unified partner?
I would say my biggest piece of advice is to be open-minded about the special needs community. Many people who haven’t had the benefit of the experiences I’ve had with people with special needs have a hard time understanding the community. Sometimes, people can be quick to judge people with disabilities based on how they look, how they speak, and how they’re perceived to interact with the community at large. Special Olympics Unified Sports offers an opportunity to form relationships in the Special Needs community and to help the individuals with special needs to feel more included.
To read more about Andrew’s experience with Unified Sports check out the article he wrote for ESPN here.