Jerry Davich: Valpo teen has had enough of being ‘special’
Jerry Davich email@example.com June 14, 2012 11:22PM
Nicole King, 18, of Valparaiso, relaxes outside her family's cottage at Lake Wauhob on the north side of the city.| Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:34AM
Nicole King is tired of being special.
Unlike most teenagers who clamor to stand out and be special, the 18-year-old Valparaiso woman has been “special” for as long as she can remember. For all the wrong reasons. Special needs. Special education. Special everything.
She’s had it up to here with that word. It’s been used to label her, define her and stereotype her, beginning at birth.
As an infant, King stopped breathing three times. It affected her brain and her motor skills. She also suffered her first epileptic seizure at 8 months old. They lasted until just a few years ago.
So, I asked her, how’s life without seizures?
“Pretty awesome,” she replied instantly.
Her mother, Julie King, prays that the seizures are gone for good, but there are no guarantees with epilepsy.
The disorder has dictated Nicole’s life for too long, she told me earlier this week as she strolled along the beach of Lake Wauhob on Valparaiso’s north side. There, her family has a cottage on the tiny, tranquil lake where King likes to swim, fish and escape the labels that make her feel as if she’s drowning.
“I’m tired of being treated like a special ed student,” she told me.
King, a quiet girl with a shy smile, looks and acts like any other teenager. Anything but special.
Her cell phone is seemingly attached at her hip. She enjoys Facebook, playing sports and talking with friends. And she told her mother to buzz off, politely, when we chatted.
“I love going to the YMCA and I love to hang out with my BFF Ashley,” her Facebook page states, echoing millions of other teens across the country.
She also wants to learn a profession, possibly at beauty school or in the culinary arts, find love, get married and have kids of her own. The whole shebang, just like everybody else. Nothing special there either.
Now that she’s 18, with a recent certificate of completion under her belt from Chesterton High School, she simply wants to be treated normally.
She still has motor-skill limitations, scarring on her brain from all the seizures, and upcoming challenges physically, including flat feet in need of surgery. But she has multiple interests that compel her to succeed, such as painting, golfing, singing and cheerleading.
King’s grandfather, Harry Dickson, said she has a sharp wit and doesn’t hesitate to use it among friends and family.
Otherwise, she doesn’t have too much to say, she readily admitted to me. Unless, that is, you ask her about the only instance when “special” is OK in reference to her life.
Special Olympian, to be precise. She’s been one since she was 8 years old.
“Special Olympics means a lot to me because it taught me to become a better person,” she told me.
Paula Myers of rural Valparaiso, a parent volunteer with Porter County Special Olympics, said King is a remarkable young lady.
“She’s always upbeat and she attends all of our social events,” Myers said. “She’s just a pleasure to be around.”
After spending time with King, I wholeheartedly agree. My visit with her also dispelled a shameful stereotype I’ve harbored about Special Olympians, and I wanted to share it with you. Maybe you, too, have a preconceived notion, even a prejudice, about these “special” athletes, their lives, their dreams and their role in our society.
“Nicole has nothing without Porter County Special Olympics,” her mother told me.
Here’s where you come in to possibly make a difference in the lives of region residents such as Nicole King.
On June 30, a Saturday, Porter County Special Olympics will be the financial recipient of a day-long live music event at Sunset Hill Farm County Park in Porter County. The second annual Livin’ It Up! festival takes place from noon to 10 p.m.
Live bands all day long. Fireworks at dusk. Crafts booths. Food vendors. A car show, and a 5K run. All for only $10 per carload (car show fee is $10 extra). With all proceeds going to Special Olympians like King, for their beloved sports, needed transportation and future activities. Sounds like a win-win to me, and I’ll be there. I hope to see you there, too.
For more info, call 263-8904 or visit the group’s Facebook page at Livin’ It Up, or at www.porcoso.org.
For more insights about this event, listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.