Northeast Region News
ATHLETE SPOTLIGHT Morales delivers SOPA message
Daniel Morales enjoys spreading the word about Special Olympics.
When asked if he is comfortable with a microphone in his hand, Morales answers with an emphatic, “indubitably,” but there is much more to explaining the enthusiasm with which the Special Olympics athlete serves as a promoter of the organization.
“The best part about promoting is going around and seeing different parts of the state that I have never seen before; making new friends that I never would have met besides Special Olympics; and getting the message out,” said Morales, who came to Lackawanna County and Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s new Northeast Region after participating with and working for Special Olympics in Virginia. “Really, you never know who needs to hear the message. Me going out or doing a radio spot or doing a podcast, or whatever, might deliver that message to the one person who needs it more than anyone else.
“That’s special. You never know whose life you can change through a simple radio ad or a TV spot.”
The way Morales sees it, his life has changed through involvement in Special Olympics.
Growing up in a military family, Morales, who was born in Arizona and has lived in other states, has been part of Special Olympics programs in Washington state, Hawaii, Virginia and now Pennsylvania. He started out with bowling and softball, but has made his way to bocce, basketball, track and field and soccer through the years.
Special Olympics helped Morales through a difficult time as a sixth-grader at Fort Belvoir Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia.
“I didn’t know that some people didn’t like some people with developmental or mental disabilities,” Morales explained. “I got to know one kid. We told each other something about ourselves and I told him that I had autism. He went around and told the whole class that autism was a disease and it was contagious and that autism meant that you were going to die.”
Morales remembers sitting alone at lunch periods and recess, without friends or anybody to talk to. When he went near other students, they would run away from him.
“When I joined Special Olympics basketball that fall, I got with a group of friends, who, I was surprised, would never run away from me,” Morales said. “They knew what it was like to be bullied. They knew what it was like to be picked on. The fact that we did some of the same sports together for years and years until I moved away, they, especially, are my second family.”
Morales chooses to look back positively on the treatment that, at first, left him isolated from those who were confused about the meaning of autism. “I have to thank that little guy for picking on me because if he had not picked on me, I would never be where I am today.”
It is just one of the messages that Morales shares about the value of experiences within Special Olympics. When there is a big event coming up, such as the first Northeast Polar Plunge at Montage Mountain in Moosic Jan. 26-27, Morales is often nearby. He can be found behind a microphone, in front of a video camera or facing a crowd to spread the word.
With assistance from his mother, Angie, Morales feels right at home in those settings. “Unquestionably, my mother is my rock,” Morales said. “She is the heart and soul of what I do in Special Olympics. When I do the marketing, she will drive me around, she will make sure I have my speeches, she’ll make sure I have my outfit correct. My friends and I joke that she is hair, she is makeup and she is the driver. She’s a one-woman television crew.”
Morales will be happy to tell those interested in the Polar Plunge what to expect or why to participate.
“Depending on which plunge you go to, there’s a lot of stuff around it,” said Morales, who was sure to experience the extras during plunges in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. “I think it’s basically for the adrenaline junkies because you rush in and you just get shivers all up and down your body. I think some people really like that. Others, I have to admit, like myself, don’t care for it, but it’s all for a good cause.”
It is a cause that helped make Morales into the man he is today.