13 years ago, Amber Radford was introduced to an opportunity to volunteer Special Olympics North Carolina. Together with her sister, she was offered an internship with the local Special Olympics program in Durham County, creating a love that would eventually become one of her life’s greatest passions: coaching.
Originally only worked with children with intellectual disabilities at first football practice, Radford was initially unsure of switching to coaching adults with intellectual disabilities. “I looked at my sister and said, ‘I do not know how well I work with adults,'” she recalls. Her sister assured her that everything would be fine and urged her to give it a shot.
At that moment, Radford “fell in love with it,” she says, adding, “they have skills as adults that we don’t have to teach, and we can just work on those skills.”
Everything she does helps the growth of athletes in sports and, more importantly, in society while standing on the football field or volleyball right. She takes life experiences and throws them into her coaching philosophy and always has a reason behind her madness.
“We drill in the beginning to work on specific things. As if we noticed at volleyball, everyone really struggled to call the ball and they would all stand there with the ball and no one would get it, we would focus on it in practice, ” she says. “In the end, depending on the sport, we finish some scrimmages.”
Radford is a special education teacher and uses the techniques she has learned for the classroom to work with athletes during training and beyond. Parents appreciate that she has the background knowledge and skills needed to give individual attention to each athlete. She makes any athlete feel comfortable. But most importantly, Radford is concerned.
“Everything Radford does is to promote a sense of pride among athletes over the achievements they have achieved. Exercises, competitions and activities outside of school are designed to be fun, memorable and positive experiences for athletes,” Keith Fishburne , president of the Special Olympics in North Carolina. and CEO, says about Radford’s coaching.
“That sense of pride is nurtured through the development of friendships among athletes, a familiarity with the sport and the integration of joy along the way,” he continues. “From playing an athlete’s favorite song during training to organizing a team craft, Radford’s goal is to make her program feel at home.”
Everything from silly string wars to eating mini-cupcakes to face painting is how Radford interacts with athletes outside the influence of athletics. She enjoys sports, but having one-on-one time, prank wars and taking pictures, one of her favorite things to do is what she really cares about.
She has coached several sports, including softball, volleyball, football, basketball, flag football and bowling. Coaching at least twice a week, she has crossed paths with countless athletes and families. But none more so than her sister, Ashley Anderson – who also happens to be Special Olympics local coordinator for Gatson County.
“Amber also has a strong focus on the value of Special Olympics in society,” shares the proud sister. “She helps organize fundraisers, promotes Special Olympics in the community, attends all events [locally, statewide], and more. “She adds that Radford” continuously promotes the Special Olympics to those she sees in the community. “
So when COVID-19 forced the Special Olympics to close all personal activities, Radford became creative in keeping the sense of community going.
“We really tried as a county to say ‘we’re still here’ and ‘we’re still active,'” she says of the shutdown. “As a county, we made the decision that we did not want our athletes to feel that we had forgotten any of them or that we were too busy doing other things.”
Despite everything being abnormal, Radford helped athletes find normality in staying active and connected at home. They held virtual social media and wanted to share positive messages on Facebook to remind each other that they were still together in this experience.
Communication “became a lot of computer-based [opportunities], “which made organizing activities challenging. Several older athletes did not have access to things like Zoom.
“For athletes like this, we specifically tried to call them and let them know about things that were going on if we knew they would be interested,” Radford says. She continues with “all social media moved to virtual, which broke my heart because I love to decorate and there was nothing to decorate.”
But Radford’s creativity helped make even virtual social media more engaging. With all the major holidays, Radford and the Special Olympics North Carolina community gathered supplies for the games they were to play and distributed individual bags to the athletes.
It has made all the difference for the athletes and their families.
“My daughter, Zaeva, started the Special Olympics almost three years ago, at the age of 10. Zaeva has a autism diagnosis and had been treated very badly by his peers at school, “shared a family member in Moore in a nomination form.” She was subjected to so much cruelty from her classmates and even went so far as to physically lock her out of the school building. . ”
“From day one, Coach Amber made her part of the team,” they continue. “COVID has changed the way the world works and we’re still figuring out what this new normal will be, but before COVID-19, Coach Amber made the exercise a special event every week!”
And when the exercise became virtual, Radford rose again with creativity and a sense of humor. “You never know how creative you have to be before you have to teach Zoom football practice inside your house without breaking anything,” she says.
“It’s very hard,” she adds with a laugh.
But Radford’s dedication and heart make it all possible. Years after she was unsure of working with adults with intellectual disabilities, it is now part of her identity. Even after she’s moved, she still travels an hour each way to coach the athletes she started with, saying “these are my people.”