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    Posted February 11, 2015 by
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    Inspirational coaches

    John and Jeff - Defeating Disability, the Story of a Special Athlete and his Coach


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Rachel Miller signed up her son for Special Olympics when he was 12 years old and unable to communicate. He didn't even like wearing socks. Now he is growing into a young man, and while there are still many things he can't do, he is a serious athlete.

    Read the full story on CNN.com.

    By all accounts, John Gordon was not expected to be an athlete. To say that he has struggled for his whole life doesn’t accurately depict the start to this story.


    John has a profound developmental and cognitive disability which affects every part of him. Growing up he was unable to speak, unable to read, unable to understand speech.


    As he grew, the struggles significantly increased and his condition was aggravated by social discrimination which specifically limited his access to education, healthcare and social functions. He was not able to walk in public by himself or even have a friend.


    Notably, access to sports, participation in sports teams and physical fitness was non-existent. For a young person the most frustrating, saddening and unjust circumstance is to be denied the opportunity which are offered to your peers. No one knew how to change this for John. There were very, very few people who knew how to handle a disability as severe as John’s. Even teachers and professionals were unable to reach him, unable to overcome limitations of the disability. He was not expected to speak, not expected to understand or respond, not expected to progress. He was certainly not expected to be an Athlete.


    Jeff Hancock took John as an athlete in the Special Olympics program when John was 12. Jeff did not acknowledge the limitations of the disability. The disability didn’t matter; John was an athlete and he was expected to perform like one. And John was HIS athlete. There had been nothing prior to happen for John and there has been nothing since that changed his world, his life, his future as much as those words. Even though the first times he heard them he did not understand what was said, John learned what it meant when Jeff said - “MY ATHLETE”


    Jeff Hancock had John try every Sport Special Olympics offered. Jeff was by his side when he started to understand the flow of the practices and the event and competitions. Through the volunteers at the events, John had the first true and equal involvement with his peers. John started to learn what he was capable of; even when he was confused or scared; if Jeff was close by he could do it. John was a natural athlete – he only needed a chance – he needed someone to NOT BELIEVE that he was limited his disability. He needed someone to NOT TAKE the typical approach – to confine him by assuming he won’t– to define him by assuming he can’t. He needed a coach to treat him like an athlete. He swam in the aquatics program and learned basketball skills. He bowled and was part of the powerlifting team as a helper. John ran track and field and tried the long jump.


    Their story just gets better. Special Olympics started a surfing program and at this point though John was a capable athlete, he still could not speak or express himself, and he had never been in the ocean above his knees. Jeff held his expectations high and John was in the water that year, he laid flat on the surf board, got rolled under the ocean waves. The next year, he was fitted with a life jacket that could be held from behind so he could have the courage to stand. The next year, he had the confidence to stand and ride wave after wave. And the fourth year - John tied for the bronze medal at the Special Olympics state surfing competition.


    The change was not only in the water. A feeling came into John, a calling. He yelled one night at the dinner table - “SURFING!” He began to sequence a calendar and knew when the next practice was. He told people what he was doing. “Thursday, Beach, Surfing” -- It was a breakthrough.


    John’s confidence only increased. Jeff had given him an equal chance through athletics, set a high standard, and he reached his goals again and again. John was 17 years old now and running with Jeff’s Special Olympics track and field team in two lead up events when their work together uncovered John’s most elite athletic talents. That year John won the gold medal in the 110m hurdles and the silver medal in the 800m race in the Special Olympics Florida Summer State Games.


    John’s disability is profound – it causes an uncertain future, it separates him from his peers, it limits his opportunities– but it also the factor that this story is so extraordinary. Jeff Hancock himself as an experienced coach has not seen an athlete capabilities so thoroughly defeat the effects of the disability. He has always stood proudly by as spectators note that they would never expect a performance like from John. If John could speak, he would say his coach always expected it.


    John was never expected to be an athlete. To say that Special Olympics and his Coach Jeff have given him life-long goals and changed the path of his future is just the beginning of this story.

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