By Ellie Lieberman
Yash Maheshwaran stepped onto the Amador Valley High School football field for what he figured to be a routine volunteering opportunity. Little did he know, on this day, his involvement with Special Olympics would begin to become not only a hobby, but an integral part of his life. Yash spent much of a day with a young girl and her guardian, and his outlook on the day remains, even three years later.
In Yash’s words,
“She didn’t know she was looked at differently. She wasn’t aware of the long gazes and pointing fingers. Her guardian, however, was well aware of how people perceived her little girl. It was hurtful, cruel, and burrowed a deep hole in her heart. She was baffled by the way I was interacting with her daughter and she broke down in front of me. She looked at me teary-eyed and said, and I quote, “No one has ever been so kind to my daughter.” That’s when I knew I had to do more. What was an ordinary 9th grade P.E. volunteering activity quickly turned into my first step to opening doors to a world I never knew existed and building relations with people who I never knew I needed in my life.”
Three years later, Yash’s involvement with the Special Olympics runs deep, all because of his first encounter. Yash is currently a jack-of-all trades for the organization that works to “provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community,” as their mission statement reads. His passion for basketball and Special Olympics naturally pushed him to coach a Northern California squad as an assistant coach, and he currently serves on the Youth Activation Committee in the area. Being able to coach Special Olympics athletes in basketball urged Yash to hone his own basketball IQ and develop a versatile toolkit of techniques for the players on his team (pictured below).
At this point, Special Olympics as an international organization has been behind the creation of 100,000 events annually that involve 5 million athletes, and 1 million coaches like Yash. The entire UPB Training team sees the essential need that Special Olympics holds in our community and worldwide, and many coaches, including Packie, have been heavily involved through the years.
Packie growing up was a big supporter of his local special Olympic team the Seagulls. They always came to the high school games and in return the boys team would play them alongside the local fireman and police department to prepare them for their tournaments.
“Basketball has always been such a big unifier for myself and I think it’s beautiful that it can be relatable for many people of all walks of life. The joy and passion one gets from playing is so unique, the Special Olympics is such an amazing thing to support. All of us at UPB are happy to support however we can," Packie said.
And though the organization has seen tremendous growth, Yash’s story is demonstrative of how one singular coach can make a monumental impact on the lives of the most dedicated athletes in the world, if they are able to volunteer their own time. He truly feels that Special Olympics is so unique in the opportunities it provides for qualified youth to be embraced for who they are, in and outside of sport. Yash plans to study biology in college next year, but Special Olympics will forever be near and dear to his heart because of the impact he’s seen possible through their programming.In Yash’s words, “Oftentimes it is the only place where these athletes can go to feel safe and supported. The tears and soft-spoken words of that guardian resonate with me up until this day. All it took was one little girl. One little girl, full of life, brought out the best version of myself. My growth as a human being can all be credited to her.”
There’s one particular exercise Clair Steele will never forget from UPB. And that’s Packie’s famous five-minute plank that would be thrown in at the end of workouts. Clair Steele used to dread those planks.