A special ambassador: Captial High’s Kyle Norman represents Montana at Capitol Hill Day in Washington, DC

by Helena Independent Record, Curt Synness

Kyle Norman’s first step with the Special Olympics took place in 2012, when he joined the CR Anderson Middle School Cubs sixth grade track and field team as a turbo-jav thrower, 100-meter dash sprinter and long jumper.

And although Norman was never exactly shy or introverted — “he talks a lot to anyone,” related his mother, Terri Norman — it most likely would have been a stretch to predict that six years later the tall, gangly Helena youth would represent the state of Montana in Washington, D.C., for the Special Olympics’ 16th annual “Capitol Hill Day.”

During his visit to the District of Columbia on Feb. 13, Norman was among Special Olympics athletes, program leaders, unified partners and family members from all 50 states and the nation’s capital that took part in more than 250 face-to-face meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress in both the House and Senate.

“The athletes challenged and invited their elected officials to partner with them to achieve the goals of expanding Special Olympics Unified Sports and Unified Champion Schools programming,” Special Olympics Montana CEO Bob Norbie wrote in a press release, “and to end health care disparities and discrimination against the 15 million persons with intellectual disabilities in America by supporting inclusive health initiatives.”

They described how this impacts the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in the areas of sports, health care and education. The goals of Capitol Hill Day were to convey the impact and cost-effectiveness of Special Olympics’ programming that addresses these issues, to educate lawmakers and to secure continued support from legislators.

“Becoming a Special Olympics athlete is the best decision I ever made,” said Norman, 16, now a 6-foot-4 junior at Capital High. “I was able to tell our Montana congressmen how important it is to support health and school activities that let me and my classmates learn from each other.”

Gold medals, hoops and the lieutenant governor
The second step of Norman’s journey was transitioning to the Tri County Twisters for two years before entering Capital, where he is now in his third year with the Bruins. He switched to swimming (freestyle and backstroke) and unified basketball (students with and without intellectual disabilities) for the past five years.

At the state Special Olympics, Norman has garnered 16 top-3 medals — six golds, six silvers and four bronzes.

“My favorite sport is basketball and it’s super fun,” Norman said. “Many of my friends participate as unified partners on my basketball team, which was really cool.

“This past year I was asked to emcee the Special Olympics state basketball tournament with Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. It was super awesome.”

Norman has spoke to organizations such as the Optimist Club and Civitan’s Club regarding the importance of their support of Special Olympics.

He is also part of inclusive education through the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools Program and statewide Youth Activation Committee, where young people are equipped with tools and training to create sports, classroom and community experiences that improve attitudes and behaviors while building communities of inclusion.

Bocce, Montana’s delegation and the NFL’s Darrell Green
“Because of Special Olympics and my role as a Youth Activation Committee member, I was able to attend the Unified Champion Schools National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2016,” recounted Norman. “There I met Tim Shriver, (National) Chairman of Special Olympics and learned a lot about Unified Champion Schools. I also got the opportunity to meet athletes from all around the country, and even learned how to play bocce.”

Norman spoke at the Montana Behavioral Initiative Youth Days about inclusive sports as well, in addition to helping plan the opening ceremonies parade for the past two years at the State Winter Games in Whitefish.

These qualifications and experiences led Norman and Norbie to a meeting with Montana senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester, Representative Greg Gianforte, and their staff to discuss significant consequences that arise from the stigma and stereotypes faced by people with IDD.

Then came the Helena teenager’s selection as the Treasure State’s representative at Capitol Hill Day earlier this month.

Norbie said that Norman was “a terrific ambassador for the nearly 3,000” Montana Special Olympics athletes during his visit to the nation’s capital.

Also in attendance was Pro Football Hall of Famer Darrell Green. The former Washington Redskins legend joined Shriver, Special Olympics Global Ambassador Dale Moss and Special Olympics athletes in urging members of Congress to make the ideals of inclusion a reality.

Special Olympics Montana, Capital Youth Activation
Special Olympics Montana is an athlete-centered, family-based, volunteer-driven, sponsor-supported movement which was co-founded by Helenans Bob Chilton and Don Byers in 1970. The organization provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Norbie described how Special Olympics provides Montana athletes continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families.

At Capital High, Norman helped start a Youth Activation Committee.

Some of their activities at CHS include an annual “Spread the Word to End the Word and Respect Rally,” to raise awareness about respect and inclusion of all those with and without disabilities, while recognizing Special Olympics and reciting the athlete’s oath during the school pep assemblies.

“Special Olympics has had a significant impact on my life and has opened many doors of opportunities to do fun things,” Norman said. “It has done a lot for me, I’ve met many new friends, and I am excited to be a part of Special Olympics.”