Special Olympics has a place in many people’s hearts, regardless of what career they may have. Such is the case for Meagan Flynn; she works at Home Goods in Austin from Monday to Thursday, but her true passion is the Special Olympics.
Flynn originally started Special Olympics when she was 8 years old after a P.E. teacher recommended it.
“(I) just tried it, and it was a lot of fun,” Flynn says. “Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.”
Special Olympics has become a space for not only athletes to feel at home but a place for employees to thrive. Chad Eason, the Sr. Director of Competition & Games, first got connected with Special Olympics while searching for an internship for a college capstone class.
“My intern coordinator wasn’t working, so I went looking on my own,” Eason says. “Everything fell into place like it was meant to be.”
He was offered a full-time position at the Special Olympics during his internship with them, and after six years, he became the program director where he coordinates state-wide competitions.
“Getting out there on competition day, seeing the athletes smile and hearing how excited the athletes get, that’s the best part,” Eason says.
Eason has been able to visit athletes all over the state, attend conferences and organize meet-and-greets between the Special Olympics athletes and celebrities such as Mark Henry.
Eason’s goals for the future include expanding the fleet of vehicles — wherein they started with none and now have 32 buses, cars and trailers — and providing hotel funds. He also hopes to expand upon branding and equipment that athletes use at events.
This year, Flynn’s goal is to compete in the Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, which will be held from June 4th to 12th. She will be competing in tennis with her former 6th-grade teacher, Jennifer Lucas, as her teammate. The two will compete as part of a Unified Team, which is a program designed to bring together athletes both with and without intellectual disabilities to compete and succeed together.
Flynn has tried seemingly every sport that the Special Olympics offers. Last year, she did 12 sports, ranging from equestrian to aquatics to flag football to, of course, tennis. However, one of Flynn’s favorite sports is equestrian.
“I enjoyed (equestrian) because I wanted to keep riding for fun and not do the competition,” Flynn says. “I enjoyed being around the horses, but the competition around it was stressful. I love to free ride a horse and just enjoy it.”
She also likes softball because it’s a team sport, as she was able to meet more people. However, she isn’t currently competing in softball because of the lack of coaches.
When it comes to tennis, though, Flynn practices with several coaches, including her head coach Barbara Dunn, and has team practice once a week on Tuesdays. Some of her own exercise training includes walking her dogs around the neighborhood, walking on the treadmill in her garage, floor exercises at home and walking at her Home Goods job; Flynn walks 17,000 steps a day when she’s working there!
She also practices as much as possible with Lucas.
“(Lucas has been) a good friend and a good backup mom,” says Lisa Flynn, Meagan’s mother. “(…) They do everything as a team, and the parents go, and we’re spectators.”
While Meagan’s been playing tennis fairly consistently for six years, the recent movie “King Richard” inspired her to return to the sport, hoping to compete at a future World Games. Her first stop on this journey will be the USA Games in Orlando, where she anticipates making friends and meeting new people.
Meagan has competed in Special Olympics USA Games before — in Iowa in 2006 and Nebraska in 2010 — but this will be her first time competing in Orlando. They will have the opportunity to stay at a Walt Disney World resort and visit Disney for a day.
Ultimately, Meagan values Special Olympics and recognizes its importance to her.
“I’ve made a lot of friendships through coaches and athletes and family members,” Meagan says. “Special Olympics (has) a very big place in my heart.”