SOUTHWEST ASIA - “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be
brave in the attempt” is the Special Olympics athlete oath.
Senior Airman Zach White, a 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer fire
truck operator and truck engineer, is doing what he can to live up
to the idea behind the oath. During his deployment to Southwest Asia
he dedicated his off-duty time to running 150 miles with the goal of
raising $2,500 to sponsor an athlete for the 2017 Special Olympics.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Zach White, 332nd Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron fire truck engineer and driver operator, stands in front of his fire fighter comrades at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Aug. 20, 2015. White dedicated his spare time during his deployment by running 150 miles to raise $2,500 to sponsor an athlete for the 2017 Special Olympics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson)
“If you have ever been around someone who has an
intellectual disability, the joy, the happiness and the
innocence they display, it makes you realize how we overlook
a lot of things in life and it brings you back to the basics
that there is a whole lot more to be happy about than what
we look at every day,” said White.
disability is a term used when a person has certain
limitations in cognitive functioning and skills, to include
communication, social and self-care skills.
inspiration to aid the Special Olympics in their efforts
ignited on a previous deployment.
“I was put on
shift with Jeff, who is now one of my best friends,” said
White. “We worked out every day, hung out during and after
shift and he has a brother who has an intellectual
Through Jeff's friendship, White got to
know Kyle, Jeff's 20-year-old brother. White would
communicate with Kyle through Jeff and quickly became
friends with Kyle. Even though White and Kyle never met,
they shared a deep connection. Kyle affectionately refers to
White as his Southern brother.
In January 2015,
White traveled to see Jeff and meet Kyle, finally putting a
face to the name.
“I got to meet Kyle and spend time
with him,” said White. “Just being around him affected me
tremendously and he showed me what it's really like to be a
person with an intellectual disability. Someone who can't
read, can't do math, has all these adversities, but is still
happy. It's so genuine. He knows what it is to love, have
friendships and experience life. He made me want to bring to
light the organizations out there to help individuals like
Kyle to push through and go further.”
prepared for his current deployment, he began planning ways
to aid not just Kyle, but other athletes as well.
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and
athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for
children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The
organization also aids with healthcare, raises awareness
about the abilities of people with intellectual
disabilities, leads the world in researching and addressing
concerns and provides a leadership program to mold future
leaders and spokespeople.
“It started with
downloading an app, which was going to donate 25 cents a
mile to the Special Olympics for every mile I ran,” said
White. “I figured it would be approximately $40 by the time
I got done. While every little bit helps, I knew I could do
so much better than that.”
Haley, White's girlfriend,
jumped onboard and suggested he start a GoFundMe account and
a Facebook page to encourage others to join the cause.
White wasn't looking to do just the minimum. For him,
the way he raised money and awareness was important. He
wanted to put in the work, just as the athletes do day in
and day out.
“Running is a challenge for me,” said
White. “Running is not easy. I have never enjoyed it. I
really wanted it to be a challenge for me, just as some
tasks are for someone who has an intellectual disability,
and not take the easy way out. It wouldn't mean as much to
me if I didn't have to work my butt off to do it.”
After working a 24-hour shift, White laces up his shoes and
logs his miles. While being deployed, he faces more
obstacles, such as scorching temperatures well over 120
degrees during the day and overnight temperatures not
dropping below 100.
“In a deployed location, we all
know things get tough and people are at home missing
families and to have an Airman come in and be that happy and
that positive and to do what he is doing for the Special
Olympics, and still have that drive at work, is
unparalleled,” said Tech. Sgt. Chris Richardson, a 332nd
ECES crew chief and captain crash fire rescue company.
No matter how blistering the heat becomes, no matter how
strenuous work was the previous night or how sore he is from
a run, White continues to lace up his shoes and sets off
putting one foot in front of the other.
“When I am
running, I am not thinking about anything else other than
why I am doing it,” says White. “Thinking about the happy
faces and the joy that I know this is going to bring
someone; that's what keeps me going. I just keep thinking
about that person we're going to be able to sponsor for the
2017 Special Olympics and it makes every step worth it.”
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Racheal E. Watson
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