Nancy “Eric” Erickson’s relationship with Special Olympics Florida began in 1974 after she left graduate school in Michigan. She stayed with it for 46 years, volunteering in variety of roles, including board secretary, coach, and state competition director.
Eric, who played both football and baseball in women’s professional leagues, helped build the program in Desoto County in the 1970s. She remembers each county team wearing different color T-shirts – so volunteers knew who belonged where – a little chaos, and a lot of enthusiastic athletes.
Some parents, on the other hand, needed a bit of reassurance. They worried their child might not be ready for competition. Or feared what would happen if they didn’t perform well. Society, in general, she said, wasn’t sure what to expect from people with intellectual disabilities. That’s still an issue today, but it has improved significantly.
“We are definitely doing better,” she said. “I’m from a very small town, and our people take pride in the fact that McDonald’s hosts are athletes after our golf event – they host us and feed our kids. They advertise that all over: ‘We’re the home of the Special Olympics Golf Team.’ It’s become socially good to do that.
“You see parents on the street, and the look in their eyes when somebody comes up to their kid and says, ‘Oh, you’re the kid that I saw win the gold medal in swimming last week.’ The parent just beams. Their child does things that everybody else does. They have the chance, the opportunity to succeed like every other kid their age. And that’s something they didn’t have before Special Olympics.”