We’ve Got Spirit
By Gabbie Garcia, Spirit League Coach and Mom
In 2012 my son Cole was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two. At the time, the CDC reported that 1 in 68 children was given an Autism diagnosis, today these numbers continue to rise.
Having a heavy heart and a love for sports, I penned the following in 2014 when Cole was four. I did so for my own healing and too, for parents like me who were hurting, in grief and dreaming of a day or “normalcy” for their child.
Today, I am proud of my now 8-year-old son Cole who is thriving. It’s with heartfelt thanks to a wonderful community which includes the non-profit organization, Spirit League. I’ve also lent my skills as a mentor and supporter but more importantly, as Coach Gabbie”.
It’s with this story I warmly welcome any parent to join their local special needs sports league where along with their child they can experience friendship, camaraderie, and a “Saturday of firsts”.”
Gabbie’s Story (Before Spirit League)
I was a spirited child, much like my son Cole: full of unbridled energy, enthusiasm and spunk. Always smiling and bright eyed. Hopping, jumping and buzzing through my own world. Eyeing something to get into — to kick up a game and play.
At four years old Mom enrolled me in AYSO. My older sister, a fearless, natural athlete, was the culprit to my great big world of sports: soccer, softball — even swim team. Mom snuck me in and signed me up early, most likely to keep me from bouncing off her walls.
By high school sports became life and the memory of those first years dribbling the soccer ball the wrong way all became a distant memory. We were no longer celebrating wins by eating orange slices and chasing butterflies in tall blades of grass. We were strategizing, traveling the state, and playing two-a-days; icing sore muscles, sliding and pulling shirts and all while trying not to get red carded.
There’s an eight-diamond baseball field by my house, huge. It’s filled with flurry every weekend. It’s the same field I ran grinders at and practiced more throw-ins than I can count. One Saturday morning, out on a run, I breezed by the park. Small children waist high were dressed in “A’s” and “Yankees’ jersey’s, fidgeting in line, hand in glove — awaiting their team pictures. Parents beamed proudly, chatting up the minutes until it was time to act out their best batting stance: knees bent, weight shifted, bat back — bat held high.
I loved team sports, even after the whistle blew. That day, in an instant, nostalgia ran through my veins. So many wonderful, action-packed memories: the stolen bases, forced pickles and fly balls caught with the sun in my eyes. The anticipation of waiting on deck, fourth in the lineup; to be counted on for a bunt or base hit — the sting of being hit with the fast pitch, striking out on the low-ball and the fear I had sliding into the bag, every-single-time.
My son is four and a half and we live with Autism. Soon, before I blink, he’ll be five. Cole is at the same age where I began twelve year my sports run, where I’d learn life-binding principles and become a true competitor. But on that day, I folded, I was heartbroken – I felt sorry for myself. I wished I were there, Cole fit with tiny cleats, stirrup socks and a flat-bill hat. I wanted to be that trigger-happy parent on the sidelines. Ready to snap the ultimate photo.
I think about the weekend posts I read on Facebook, friends and their neuro-typicals: out in the bleachers, eating a fun dip or smacking on big league chew; keeping score in the dugout like Mom did for my sister and me. After a game, tiny giggles and bursts of laughter as children clamor and climb into this and that car – like clowns in a circus, all squished in tight for the short ride down the street for pizza. Parents sharing a pitcher, doling out slices all while their kid’s blow quarter after quarter half-supervised at the arcade.
Autism has robbed me of so many ‘firsts’ and sports, now, would be no different. If you live with Autism, you understand the difficulty the doused hopes held deep your heart for your child are to deal with. How as a parent your personal dreams and visions must often change. How your attitude constantly needs adjusting, mostly so you can emotionally survive.
It’s not that I long for Cole to be an athlete like me (or like Dad — Dad played ice hockey, even through college) but for him to have the same life experiences. To share stories or show him how to trap a soccer ball from the sky, kick a perfectly placed corner kick…score a goal with your forehead. More so, the hopes are to share what sports taught me: camaraderie, discipline, commitment and the lesson of physical discomfort and pain. The thrill of competition, celebrating team wins and of course, the cold, empty heartache from losing.
My love of team sports, to share this with Cole, may or may not ever be. For me it’s a dream wrapped in the perfect Saturday soccer mom fantasy. We struggle with concepts and or now, my perfect Saturday will have to wait, as we continue living and I compete against Autism.
A Note From Spirit League
Thank you, Coach Gabbie, for sharing your story and how you wanted the same experiences for Cole. We are so glad you are a part of Spirit League and lucky to have you as part of our family. Cole is an amazing athlete and has done so well in the League. We can’t wait to watch him grow into a young adult as a fantastic player.