With four Special Olympics athletes, the Bass family has learned the importance of focusing on their children's special abilities, not disabilities.
Against All Odds
To see Todd dribbling fast down the soccer field or stealing 22 basketballs a game, it’s hard to imagine how fragile he used to be. "He was one-pound, seven ounces at birth - and they didn't give him much of a chance," recalls Todd's dad, Steve Bass.
When Steve and his wife, Gail, first glimpsed Todd, he was hooked up to an oxygen machine, a heart monitor and a feeding tube. He was so delicate to the touch, says Steve, "It was like picking up your phone receiver. He was that little."
Despite that early prognosis, Todd has steadily grown into a strong and exceptional athlete. He’s also the scrappy player who gets assigned to guard the tallest players, putting on an impressive show, especially when it comes to stealing the ball from his opponents. His dad recalls, "We went to State Games and I was surprised by the crowd. Then they told me they were there to see Todd."
A Family that Plays Together, Stays Together
Todd is one of 52 foster children taken in by the Bass family over the years. They started after Gail and Steve's two children were nearly grown, and they ended up caring for several children with disabilities. Steve says, 'We just knew it would be harder for them to find homes with other people. So they found homes with us." They eventually adopted six children, including four with intellectual and other disabilities. All four have been deeply involved with Special Olympics.
And it didn’t take long for both Steve and Gail to get involved in Special Olympics as well -- coaching track and field, basketball and soccer. As Gail recalls, "We fell in love with all the kids and have continued to coach for about 10 years now." Their daughter, Angel, has also trained to be a coach, and even coaches her twin sister, Amanda, now 22, who has become a talented Special Olympics athlete.
Amanda specializes in track and field, including the 100-meter dash, shot put and 4x100 meter relay. Steve says Special Olympics has really helped her find acceptance and confidence – and embrace her abilities. “It’s brought her out of that shell, because she was kind of a loner.”
Todd’s other siblings include Jamie, 25, who participates in track, basketball, soccer and alpine skiing. Jamie tried track and field with his high school team, but his mom says that experience made him more aware of what he could not do. She says, “With Special Olympics, he has so much confidence and can focus on his special abilities.”
Meanwhile, 14-year-old Tommy has been involved with Special Olympics for six years and he loves soccer and basketball. His mom describes him as a real go-getter who feels he can compete with the most gifted athlete.
Finding His Voice
Meantime, in addition to his talent in sports, Todd has found a calling as a Global Messenger for Special Olympics. He’s attended Capitol Hill Day twice, talking with members of Congress and legislative staff about supporting people with intellectual disabilities.
"Special Olympics has done wonders for our kids," says Gail. "Their self-esteem has really been boosted, they have made lots of new friends. We attribute a lot of this to Special Olympics because this is where they excel.” She adds, “We do not see kids with disabilities, just very talented athletes!”
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