HomeNewsCommentariesDisplay

How a bracelet, Special Olympian changed my life

Britni Welch, Special Olympics athlete, participates in the wheelchair race at the 2015 Mississippi State Special Olympics, May 9, 2015, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Welch participated in the wheelchair race and tennis ball throw for her age group and won the gold medal in both sports. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Holly Mansfield)

Britni Welch, Special Olympics athlete, participates in the wheelchair race at the 2015 Mississippi State Special Olympics, May 9, 2015, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Welch participated in the wheelchair race and tennis ball throw for her age group and won the gold medal in both sports. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Holly Mansfield)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- There are few things in my life that have altered the way I view things. Before May 9, 2015, I could say joining the military, getting married and giving birth to my baby girl are the few times my life has drastically changed.

When I walked on the track at the 2015 Mississippi State Special Olympics I didn't know just on the other side, there was a girl in a wheelchair who would change my life forever and transform how I view those with special needs.

When I got to the event site that morning, all I could see were crowds of people.

There were Airmen, volunteers and of course the athletes. I had never been to a Special Olympics event before so it was a little overwhelming.

How will I talk to the athletes? Will they understand me and will I understand them?

When I got to the wheelchair races, I started looking around for a good person to photograph.

Off to the side, there was a girl in a bright yellow shirt and a long braided ponytail sitting in a wheelchair. She had her two Airmen sponsors and her mom with her. She was doing warm up exercises with her Airman -- something the other athletes weren't doing.

I walked up to her mom, Lisa Welch, asked her how she was doing and if it would be ok for me to take photos of her daughter.

The girl didn't say much to me until she saw my bracelet.

It was a small pink and white bracelet I had bought in high school. The first thing out of her mouth as she grabbed my wrist was, "I'm Britni. Your bracelet is pretty."

She went on to tell me that she was competing in two competitions that day, the wheelchair race and the tennis ball throw, and how excited she was.

The more I talked to her, the more I couldn't believe we were getting along so well because we are so different from each other. She can't speak as well as most people, but through her enthusiasm, anyone could tell she is passionate about Special Olympics.

She kept looking at my bracelet as she was getting ready for her turn to race. I looked at her and told her if she won the gold medal in both of her events, I would give it to her.

As I walked away, I heard her say "I'm gonna win gold."

Within seconds, the commands were made, the flag was waved and Britni and her competitor were on their way down the track. It went quickly, and all I remember seeing was Britni's smile.

She was doing it. She was going to win the gold medal. 

Britni asked me if I would be at her next competition, and I promised I would.

Her next event came, and as expected, she won the gold medal.

Later that night at the Victory Dance held for the athletes, I searched all around the parade field but Britni was nowhere to be found. I felt horrible and I didn't know how I was going to give her my bracelet like I promised.

I decided to go up to the balcony looking over the parade field to get some photos and see if I could see her.

Finally I spotted her.

I remember the look on her face when I told her how proud I was of her as I put the bracelet on her wrist. It was the same smile she had at her race. I could tell that she was having trouble thinking of the words to say, but at that moment it didn't matter. She had accomplished something most don't get to do and deserved more than just an old bracelet from an Airman she hadn't known 24 hours before.

That day I wasn't expecting to learn so much about those with special needs and the impact they make on other people. I started the day as an Airman doing her job to complete the mission and ended as a person who not only learned more about those who are different than me, but also made a friendship I hope will last for years down the road.

And to Britni, please know that you have made an impact on my life that cannot be measured. You have shown me what it truly takes to overcome obstacles life might throw at me.

I will always remember that day at Special Olympics when you changed my life for the better.