Pushing the Limits

Before Jackie Wittenburg joined Special Olympics, her mom, Kathy, worried.  She wondered how a new group of people would react to her daughter.    

Jackie Wittenburg smiles with her medal

Jackie Wittenburg participates in swimming and bocce, in addition to track and field. She practices twice a week – and has done so well she was tapped as an alternate to the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens.

Jackie has Apert Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to cognitive, speech and hearing deficits, along with malformations of the head, face and limbs.

Kathy was also worried that Jackie's physical limitations would get in the way of athletic pursuits.  Yet it was exactly those limitations that brought the Wittenburg family to Special Olympics in the first place.  "We were concerned that it would be easy for her to become sedentary, and that would not be a healthy choice," says Kathy. Jackie had undergone leg surgery and needed to get, literally, back on her feet.  "We thought if we could start her off young then this just would become just a part of her life...and since there is no age limit in Special Olympics, it was a good fit."

At 12 years old, Jackie was a little nervous about meeting new people. Even at church, when she was promoted to a new youth group, she was careful to wear gloves and a hat the first day. But her first day at Special Olympics turned out to be an encouraging experience. Mom Kathy says the athletes, coaches and volunteers are "a very supportive, encouraging group and she fit in right away." Once Jackie figured out how the competitions worked, that's when she really started having fun.

Almost immediately, Jackie wanted to push her limits. That's not an easy task for Jackie, since her feet are fused together; she is also missing a big toe.  But to everyone's surprise, track turned out to be Jackie's favorite event.  Her mother says, "I am shocked she can perform as well as she does!  We NEVER tell her she can't do anything.  As far as I'm concerned, she's exceeded the goals we've set so far."

Kathy now knows she shouldn't have worried about her daughter's self-esteem in the face of sports competition.  After winning her first medal, Jackie was just beaming.  "For the first time in her life, my daughter told me she was proud of herself."

Now 15 years old, Jackie participates in swimming and bocce, in addition to track and field. She practices twice a week – and has done so well she was tapped as an alternate to the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens – quite an honor for an athlete her age. To qualify, she had to place well enough in each event, participate in regional and state meets and display good sportsmanship at all times.

Jackie is already looking ahead to her next round of competition – and perhaps even the 2013 World Winter Games. She's also working on improving in her newest sport: equestrian.  Her mom says Jackie's found a real home at Special Olympics.  With the help of her coaches, she will continue working hard to reach her goals in sports and beyond.

 


Your Donation Matters

Special Olympics transforms athletes’ lives through the joy of sport. Help us make a difference.

DONATE TODAY»

Volunteer Near You

Volunteering with Special Olympics is fun and very rewarding, for both the athlete and the volunteer!

LEARN MORE»

Follow Us

Help us reach out to one more athlete.

Donate »

Find events near you and learn about volunteer opportunities at one of our 220 worldwide locations.

FIND A LOCATION NEAR YOU »

Videos and Photos

DifferentBarry Cairns tells what it's like to be a Special Olympics athlete.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

SpeechlessSpecial Olympics changed her life in deep and meaningful ways.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Summer GamesAround the world, months of practice are paying off.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Photos on FBSee photos and comments from our supporters around the world.See Photos »


Videos and Photos

Hope in HaitiLeo and Gedeon play in makeshift fields, tent towns, wherever they can.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Finding His VoiceDavid Egan has always dreamed big. Now look at him!Learn More »


Videos and Photos

Sport Teaches UsOur life-changing work is fueled by the power of sport.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Making SuccessDoctors said Lani is “never going to achieve anything.” Learn More »


Videos and Photos

Very Very SpecialMusic helps Special Olympics make an impact worldwide.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Around The WorldGreat photos of Special Olympics events and people.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Focus on ChangeWhat we do can't be done without our partners.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Power of SportsSports are a powerful way to change our athlete’s lives.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

What We DoSports, health, education, community and more.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Who We AreWe are athletes, families, celebs, volunteers and more.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Summer SportsOur athletes run, jump, swim and score in summer.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Playing UnifiedUnified Sports reveals strengths in every team member.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Healthier AthletesOur free health clinics are making a huge difference.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Deon NamisebHe's a speaker and role model. It didn't start that way in Namibia.Learn More »


Special Olympics Blog

Health Needs Need Closer Examination

"You can't compete if your feet hurt, if your teeth hurt or if your ears ache."read more »

Posted on 2014-04-07 by Ryan

go to blog »


*

Special Olympics - Become a Fan