Daniel Morgan, 17, and his younger brother, Michael Love, 7, have a very special bond. Both are involved with the Bayouland Special Olympics ó while Daniel volunteers his time and energy in coaching the kids, Michael is one of the athletes.
The sporting organization has opened up new and exciting opportunities for both brothers. Michael knows what it is like to be a winner ó just this year he won a gold and silver medal in the state Special Olympics bowling division. And Daniel is getting the opportunity to represent Louisiana at a wrestling conference in Australia this summer thanks, in part, to his work with the Special Olympics where he volunteers more than 1,000 hours each year.
This is only the first year Michael has competed in bowling, but he showed a real talent for the sport and even placed at the state level Special Olympics. He won first place for doubles bowling in the state and 2nd in individual bowling - missing the a second gold medal by only one point.
Bowling has really helped Michael to understand the meaning of "team work" ó his partner is in a wheelchair and Michael had to bowl his own turn and then help his partner get into position as well.
Michael competes in many other areas, including swimming, track, baseball and basketball. Connie said that Michael has placed first in many of the other sports over the years, but that a lack of financial resources keep him from competing at the national level.
"Heís always been interested in sports because of his older brother always being involved in sports," Connie said. "Both of them are inspirations to each other. Mikey idolizes his brother and Daniel is inspired by some of the things Mikey does."
Michael said he likes participating in Special Olympics because it gives him an opportunity to make friends and compete in a friendly atmosphere.
"He likes the camaraderie," Connie said. "He really leads the pack. They accept him and he loves to help the other athletes.
"In Mikeyís mind, heís normal and theyíre different ó but he treats them like gold."
Connie said that Michael has many diagnoses, from autism to ADD, but that sports help to keep him focused.
"He might forget his spelling words, but he wonít forget game time," Connie said, laughing.
Daniel got involved with the Special Olympics initially by chance, but the experience during his first volunteer session changed his life.
"I first got involved when my mom found out that St. Charles Parish was starting a basketball team for special people," Daniel said. "When I walked in the door that night I didnít really want to be there, but by the end of the night I was hooked."
Daniel said that his experiences coaching and cheering on kids in the Special Olympics sports has given him a new appreciation for sportsmanship and service.
"Whatís most rewarding is seeing the expressions of the athletes and knowing that every bit of help and compassion I show them means more than the world to them," he said. "To have a person who isnít special to take time out of their day to just help teach them a simple skill that Ďregularí people take for granted every day means more to them than any material item you could give them.
"It warms my heart to know Iím making a difference."
While heís officially helping to warm up and prepare the athletes, Daniel said he is often pulled to other events to cheer on, motivate and coach the kids. Heís now one of the stateís youngest coaches in track, swimming, bowling and shot-put.
Danielís skills and work helping other Special Olympics athletes have opened up a great opportunity for him - he has been invited by Down Under Sports to represent Louisiana on the North Central Conference Wrestling team in Australia this summer.
Daniel got involved with wrestling through his cousins, but found he immediately had a connection with the sport.
"Itís hard to say what I love most about wrestling. I love the rush of adrenaline; I love the feeling of dominance on the mat," Daniel said. "I guess if I had to pick one thing that I love the most though, it would have to be at the end of a match walking away knowing that I never gave up and if I lost that it wasnít an easy win (for my opponent)."
He finished in the top 15 in the LASAA State Wrestling Championship for three years.
Daniel is working hard to raise money and find sponsors for his trip to Australia this summer. It would be his first time out of the country.
"This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime chance and Iím still a little bit in disbelief that I have the opportunity," Daniel said.
He said heís looking forward to experiencing the different foods, ideas and cultures in Australia as well as competing against wrestlers from all over the world.
For more information on Louisiana Special Olympics, visit www.laso.org. For information on the wrestling competition in Australia, visit www.downundersports.com.