Summer is when the season for professional leagues like the NBA and NHL are winding down, and others like the MLB are in full swing. Unlike the professional leagues, there are thousands of athletes throughout New York State whose athletic seasons and schedules are more constant. These athletes have overcome far more grueling and daunting challenges than any professional athlete has. They are Special Olympians. I recently had a chance to sit down and speak with a local Special Olympian, who I dare say has to be one of the longest participating athletes in any sport on any level. His name is Bill Sleight.
Sleight lives with a developmental disability, but anyone who spends any time with him, as I have recently, can see that he has not and never will allow his disability to hinder him from doing anything he wants. Sleight attributes a lot of his ability to overcome his disability to his association with the Special Olympics.
Growing up in Dansville, Sleight first became involved with Special Olympics at the age of five, and the 49-year-old has been involved in many capacities ever since. Sleight competes in volleyball, and over the last four decades he’s earned over 100 medals.
Sleight said the Special Olympics has given him something far more important than medals.
“The Special Olympics has given me a great social outlet, as well as a great deal of self-confidence,” he said. “It’s shown me that even though some people may not think I’m normal, I am normal and can achieve anything I want and live as normal a life as possible. I just have to work around my disabilities.”
Like any athlete, Sleight and his team must practice their craft to succeed at the level they hope to. His team practices weekly, and this, along with competing and traveling with his teammates, has made Sleight realize that these other Special Olympians are not just his teammates but a second family. It is thanks to this family that he has been able to overcome both his disability and the hardships of daily life that we all deal with.
“Last year I lost my sister to cancer,” Sleight says, “and last week my mother had to undergo a procedure to remove cancer herself. So what keeps me motivated to participate in the Special Olympics after all these years? It’s the fact that this year I am dedicating my performance to the loving memory of my sister and to that of my mother, who’s fighting her own battle,” he said. “I would not be able to stay focused with all that’s going on around me without my teammates and my involvement in the Special Olympics.”
Sleight’s campaign to honor the memory of his sister and to honor his mother’s ongoing battle with cancer continues this weekend when his volleyball team and countless other special Olympian travel to Glens Falls, N.Y., in an attempt to win at the state Special Olympic Games.
If you know someone who you think would benefit from participating in the Special Olympics, or if you would like to get involved yourself as a competitor or a volunteer, please go to the N.Y. Special Olympics website and look up the Regional Director in your area. The Special Olympics is largely run through fundraisers and with the assistance of volunteers, so I challenge you to go out and give – not necessarily monetarily, but maybe with your time. You can be a champion too, just like Bill Sleight is – on or off the court.