Patty Carosotto spent most of her athletic days in the pool. Whether it be after school or on the weekends, she would splash into the water under the crisp sunlight in preparation for meets. All the while, her brother, who was born with cerebral palsy, got lost in the sound waves listening to Dodgers games. It was all the lessons she learned along the way caring for him that would shape her career to what it is today.
“Growing up with a brother who has cerebral palsy, although he didn’t compete in Special Olympics himself at the time, it was just something natural to me,” Carosotto says, referring to inclusion. “I wanted to start giving back, so when I was in high school, I started (volunteering with) Special Olympics.”
Carosotto, who has been teaching special education for two decades, at East Greenwich High School in Rhode Island, was nominated as the Special Olympics North America Outstanding Coach for Unified Champion Schools. Unified Champion Schools promotes social inclusion through intentionally planned and implemented activities affecting systems-wide change, and Carosotto received the award in recognition of the hard work and commitment she demonstrates to the movement of inclusion throughout her school and community.
“Patty came to us as a highly skilled and compassionate elementary-level special education school educator whose focus on working with youth of all abilities in the classroom made her the ideal candidate for a Unified coach,” reads the nomination form for the award.
Much of that compassion stems from growing up with a sibling who has an intellectual disability. She says her childhood wasn’t always the easiest. But she felt in her heart that she was meant to look out for her brother, a piece of her childhood she takes much pride in.
“I was always proud to introduce him to my friends like, ‘Look at my brother. Look at how he walks on crutches, like, how cool is he?’” Carosotto says about her younger self.
Carosotto invited her brother to join her in whatever she was doing, including going to her swim meets. She and her brother experienced changes like so many people do—moving, getting comfortable in communities, and finding their places in the world—but through it all, valuable lessons were learned.
“It taught me acceptance and respect of others, you know, accepting them for who they are and not being afraid of it like, ‘Oh gosh, what is happening?’ My brother, even though he has cerebral palsy, when we were walking and would see somebody in a wheelchair or struggling, he would try to care for them,” she says.
Children have some of the most curious minds in the world, and when they would see Carosotto and her brother out as kids, they would come up and start touching the crutches. Her brother took the opportunity to educate them. “He was that advocate showing them that it was OK to talk with him and have a conversation,” she says.
And all those lessons and experiences helped her later in life, raising a son, Matthew, who has Down syndrome and introducing him to Special Olympics. In fact, family is how she got involved in the organization.
“I think those lessons that [my brother] taught me and that my parents taught me of being an advocate for your child, accepting them for who they are—and even though there will be struggles along the way and being able to get through those—really showed me it’s going to be OK,” she says.
And while life throws obstacles at people, she says she was “very fortunate” growing up with a sibling who had a disability.
“This is what I do,” she says. “This is what I’ve grown up with. This is what I volunteer to do.”
Carosotto’s son is very active in Special Olympics, and that makes it easy for her to stay involved. Having played 13 sports, he’s developed leadership and self-advocacy skills. He’s also had the unique opportunity to be coached by his mom.
She says their coach/player relationship is just like everyone else. She has the same expectations.
“I’m pretty tough on him. Some might say I’m a pretty tough coach,” Carosotto says with a little laughter in her voice.
Her vision with Special Olympics includes the growth of Unified opportunities, at all levels, including the USA Games and the World Games. As an educator, she would love to see more integration of events on college campuses too.
Carosotto’s Special Olympics story is unique. The experiences she went through in childhood shaped her purpose in life. It’s what prepared her for the impact she has made on her community and her family. And it’s the reason she deserves the recognition.
Special Olympics is proud to partner with Gallagher, Official Sponsor of Special Olympics International Sport and Coach Programming. Special Olympics and Gallagher are empowering athletes with and without intellectual disabilities to face their future with confidence—on and off the playing field—through quality coaching and sports training experiences. Thanks to Gallagher’s support, Special Olympics Rhode Island will receive a stipend to facilitate the professional development of the winner and the growth of the Coach Education Program within Special Olympics Rhode Island.