It’s a ‘G’ Thing: Special Olympics gives NYC athletes new confidence and sense of belonging

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“It helped me a lot, my attitude, I changed my ways,” Jesus Perez said.

Jesus Perez is always trying to grow.

“Listen, have some respect," he explained.

Just some of the basic skills this 29-year-old has developed during his time with the Special Olympics.

“It means everything to me, everything,” Jesus said.

Jesus's parents died when he was a baby and growing up he struggled to fit in.

“I would go off automatically, someone would trigger me, and I'd get mad, I’d go off [and] start fighting," he remembered.

Things changed when he met Richard Addison, a former college basketball player who used to guard NBA legend Larry Bird.

“He’s a good coach, and he’s a good person, he’s a like a father to me,” Jesus said.

“I remember him coming up to me and saying Coach I want to be with Special Olympics, and I said what do you do? He said everything,” Addison laughed.

He wasn't lying, Jesus has won Gold and Silver medals in multiple events over the years, giving him a new confidence and sense of belonging.

“What did it feel like when a ribbon was placed on your for the first time? I felt happy, that was great!” Jesus said.

“[It's amazing] to see them accomplish, to see that they can overcome their diagnosis, that they can move on, and that they can work,” Addison said. “I know [Jesus] can do great things.”

But like anyone, where there are ups, there are downs.

“Last year was a bad day for me, I kept running away a lot, I wanted my freedom,” Jesus remembered.

“Safety was number one for me, and it was concerning because he was doing so well," Addison said. "It was nerve wracking, I was wondering what happened, where is he.”

He's now in a new group home. And this weekend is extra special for Jesus, as he and his team head to the State Winter Games.

"[My event is] Snowshoeing. You have snow shoes and you put them on, strap them on your feet and you get on the snow and you start running,” Jesus explained. “What place are you going to come in? I asked. "First!” he said adamantly with a smile.

While he enjoys competing, he one day wants to be like Richard.

“I want to help people, I want to be a leader not a follower," Jesus said.

But no before pursuing his own life-long dream.

“To be a basketball player, in the NBA," he said. “There aren’t too many people 5’4" in the NBA so are we dreaming or are we hoping?" I asked while we laughed. "I’m hoping.”

And if you have hope, you have everything.

 

Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi