BY: USA GAMES CORRESPONDENT, MIKE GASTINEAU
For Idaho native Tim Hughes, it all started with one girl named Olivia Cline.
“I was teaching a Sunday school class and I happened to have a student with a disability,” he said. “We began looking for something fun we could do together as a class and we decided that the next step we should take is to get her to participate in Special Olympics.”
Cline has cerebral palsy and while she was able to play sports as a young kid, by the time she was in junior high school she found it tough to keep up. With encouragement from Hughes and some of the other students in the class, she agreed to try Special Olympics as a floor hockey player. According to Hughes, it didn’t go well.
“Olivia decided it wasn’t a good fit and she didn’t want to participate. She didn’t feel comfortable and didn’t feel it was the right fit for her. I told her I thought we should give it a few more weeks and see what happened.”
What happened was this: Olivia Cline became an athlete so talented that she competed in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles as a swimmer. Hughes gets some of the credit for this story (he swam with her once or twice a week to help her prepare for the World Games) but he’s quick to bring in others who deserve credit, as well, for helping make Olivia’s story a good one.
“Luckily, there were a couple other girls in the class who wanted to participate with us via the Unified sports program,” Hughes said. “One of them is named Laurel Howe. She’s been great friends with Olivia throughout their lives. Everything Olivia did, Laurel was either empowering her to do or showing her how to do it.”