Competing for inclusion

Partners chosen to participate in Beijing Special Olympics


Unified Fit Club members Emerson Coburn and Madi Au traveled to China with sponsor Bailey Fry. Courtesy of Bailey Fry.

The public school environment constantly radiates a competitive energy. Whether it’s academics or sports, it seems like everyone is always on edge and hungry for victory. Every student is determined to be the very best at whatever it is that they do. It’s all about competition and nothing else. Or so it seems.

This isn’t the case with seniors Emerson Coburn and Madi Au, two girls who are a part of the Unified Fit Club, who were selected to travel on Saturday, Nov. 1 to participate in the Special Olympics East Asia in Beijing. While on their week-long trip to Beijing, the girls received the opportunity to learn and grow in their leadership as well as gain inspiration from other participating countries.

“It was a student leadership conference, so they went to learn how to be better leaders in their school and learn from other countries,” sponsor Bailey Fry said. “There were eight different countries [attending] and they talked about what they did as far as unified events and sports and different activities like that on their [campuses].”

The experience was a significant one for Coburn, as it gave her a broader perspective in terms of how special education kids are included on a world-wide level.

“I learned about other cultures and how people interact with special education kids all around the world,” Coburn said. “We’re much more inclusive than we think we are.”

During their time in Beijing, the trio encountered a few challenges, one in particular being the language barrier. However, the ensemble managed to get through their stay as they had a translator to ease any confusion.

“I think it’s always hard when you travel somewhere you don’t speak the language,” Fry said. “I think that was a big thing, the language barrier. People in China can speak English far better than we can speak Chinese, so I think that was extremely helpful.”

When it came down to selecting a partnership, Fry knew Coburn and Au were the ideal team. They’ve always demonstrated exemplary leadership and gotten along well, their personalities complementing each other. Fry is proud of the girls and all of the hard work they put in during their time in Beijing.

“They enjoy each other’s company and have a good time together,” Fry said. “They did a really good job sharing what we do on our campus and how we make it a unified campus. They also did a great job trying every activity even though some of them are uncomfortable and unfamiliar to us. I think they did a great job boosting each other and seeing when the other one was uncomfortable situation or down.”

Apart from attending multiple conferences, on their last day in Beijing the pair also participated in small games. Au enjoyed playing in games like shuffleboard and eating different foods.

“My favorite part were the moon pies,” Au said.

Through Unified Fit, Coburn and Au have been able to form a strong bond and friendship. Coburn hopes to teach others about the importance of inclusion and treating everyone equally regardless of their differences.

“I want people to know special education students aren’t different from us, they just have a different set of skills but they can do what we can do,” Coburn said. “Inclusion is really important all around.”