A combination of “accident and providence” led to a special friendship between US Senator Chris Coons and Special Olympian Lucy Meyer and brought them both to Delaware today.
The pair spoke at several schools – Tower Hill, McKean and Wilmington Friends – delivering a message about acceptance, inclusion and human rights.
Gold medalist Lucy has come a long way since birth, when her brain was deprived of oxygen for five minutes. Doctors then told her parents she would likely never sit up or swallow. But the 20-year-old has worked hard to overcome countless obstacles – including the limited use of the entire right side of her body – and is now a national spokesperson for the Special Olympics and UNICEF USA partnership.
She now travels the world to share with students what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy, bringing inspiration and hope to children around the world who live with disabilities and yearn for acceptance. “I have to work extra hard to walk a little better. But I would rather work hard and overcome things. It means so much to be that your school is dedicated to acceptance and inclusion,” she said.
Her talk resonated with middle and upper schoolers alike at Tower Hill this morning. “It’s amazing how Lucy overcame so much despite all the challenges that were thrust upon her and used it to help others just like her,” said seventh grader AJ Hehir. “And it was really interesting that her approach is to reach out to kids — not just government officials — because she can have a lot more impact there with young people,” she said.
Raised in Southern California, Lucy grew up learning to swim and play basketball and said she dreamed of having the chance to swim every day of her life. She told students at Tower Hill this morning that “discovering Special Olympics was the best day ever” because now she could take her love of sports to another level and could finally train and compete like everyone else.
One student asked Lucy today, “Are you treated differently because of your disabilities?” Her response: “Things are offered to others before us. We often go last. But we become good at asking for help, and we figure out how to do it better or differently.”
At each school today the five-time gold medalist was introduced by Senator Coons, who met Lucy six years ago on Capitol Hill and is now an enthusiastic cheerleader for her mission.
Since then, the Coons and Meyers families have stayed in touch and developed a deep friendship. And while Lucy has now met 55 US Senators in her role as a UNICEF and Special Olympics ambassador, Sen. Coons is the only legislator who has ever accompanied Lucy on any of her school visits.
“Meeting Lucy was a combination of accident and providence,” said Senator Coons. “You know, if you open your heart to folks who just sort of happen to come your way in the course of a life through public service, sometimes you meet really special people. When my daughter Maggie was considering colleges around the country, we went to visit the Meyers – they live just five minutes from UCLA – and we had two wonderful weekends together staying at their home. Lucy has come to visit me several times in the Capitol,” he said.
When the Senator heard that Lucy and her mom would be taking a year off to visit schools across the country and overseas, he made the pitch for Delaware. The Senator’s office arranged for the three school visits today.
He told students at his first stop, “As your senator, I am the co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus along with Sen. Tom Tillis of North Carolina, and disability rights are a critical part of human rights. When I grew up, children with special needs schooling meant different facilities for them and led to a very separate society and one in where people with disabilities were often excluded or even shunned. One of the most important things that has happened in my lifetime is the end of that separation.”
Coons added that while “great progress” has been made in the United States, people and children with disabilities across remain isolated, lacking proper support and services.
Georgia Sarko, also a seventh grader at Tower Hill, said today’s talk made her reflect on many things she takes for granted. “As a kid, if I had a disability, I would imagine it would be really difficult. Sometimes you might just want to give up or just want to be like other kids. But Lucy has made good friends and has overcame so many obstacles. She took charge and persevered through her life to be able to be just like anyone else,” she said.