Special Olympics Standout Spreads the Word
by KRISTEN ARMSTRONG, Staff Writer
|If you're ever feeling
discouraged and don't think you can reach your goals, you might want to
learn a thing or two from Special Olympics athlete Ashley Counts.
Counts was diagnosed with mild retardation as a child, but she has not let this stand in the way of leading a full life and proving to herself that she can accomplish almost anything she is determined to do.
“Even though I have some limitations, I can do most everything,” she said in a recent interview.
Strong support from her family has been a key element of Counts' success. But participating in Special Olympics also has played a significant part in helping her achieve some of her goals.
The 29-year-old Vienna resident joined the Special Olympics nearly four years ago at the recommendation of a family friend and began playing soccer after a long break from the sport.
Counts played on a Vienna youth soccer team throughout middle school and high school, and the sport had been a big part of her life. Playing on a Special Olympics team has given her the chance to grow as an athlete and meet some wonderful people.
“I play with people you never thought could play,” she said. “They're amazing athletes.”
In addition to soccer, Counts also plays basketball and softball, and plans on joining the swim team this year. She also is a “global messenger” for Special Olympics, visiting local businesses and organizations and spreading a message of acceptance.
“You don't have to be their friend,” she said. “Just be nice - don't judge [people with disabilities].”
She also asks that the businesses and organizations give people with disabilities a chance to show that they can do the job just as well as anyone else.
Counts is proof of this. She currently works four days a week as an administrative assistant at the Infant and Toddler Connection in Fairfax.
Counts said she enjoys being a global messenger, but the role has been challenging at times. Speaking in front of about 150 people at the Special Olympics gala in early October definitely put her out of her comfort zone.
“I've never really been a big speaker,” she said. “But it felt really good to have people applaud you. It's quite an honor to have people say ‘she can do whatever she puts her mind to.'”
Counts hopes that her global- messenger work eventually will take her into schools, where she can spread her message to students, one of her target audiences.
Ashley Counts plays multiple sports with Special Olympics, including soccer (she's the one with the ball).