That was before she joined Special Olympics – and found a whole new world. The shy 12-year-old learned that sports can actually be a path to being "accepted and to achieve my dreams." Amanda says,"Special Olympics has built my confidence and made me a better person."
Now 18, Amanda trains hard in track; her events include the long jump and the 800-meter . Her parents see her progress as nothingshort of miraculous. Amanda was born with cerebral palsy. She also has limited muscle control on her left side, and her left leg and left arm are slightly shorter than her right.
Amanda has also learned to play basketball and is a hit at softball. Softball took some extra special work, but Amanda became skilled at catching the ball in her right-handed mitt, then tearing off the glove with lightning speed, so she could throw with her right hand.
Running remains her favorite sport. It also helps the teen cope with some of the issues she's faced in recent times. She says, "It helped me with some problems I had -- if I got angry, I'd go out and run. Hitting softballs helps too."
Amanda was part of Team USA at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. She is proud to say she achieved personal best times in all three of her events. She broke those records even after injuring her foot in the early time trials; everyone thought she would have to miss her events. Says Amanda, "I wasn't going to just watch everyone else run!"
Now all the kids in town know how far Amanda has come -- including the ones who teased her. Anybody driving into Wayne, Ohio, is now greeted by a highway sign that boasts, "Home of Amanda Gump, Special Olympics … Ohio Athlete of the Year.” That proud tribute to Amanda's achievements stands alongside others honoring state athletic champions and Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer Chris Hoiles.
Her parents say Special Olympics and the chance to play competitive sports helped Amanda in so many ways and boosted her self-esteem in ways that help beyond the track field. As her father puts it, "If it wasn't for Special Olympics, she wouldn't be the kid she is."
Amanda has just graduated from high school and hopes to someday become a teacher. She's also looking ahead to the next World Games -- and training as much as she can in hopes of bringing home a few gold medals.