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Overcoming preconceptions

Patrick Sinnott is a Special Olympian who has played for Wilsonville


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Patrick Sinnott (center with towel) poses with members of Homies and Hunnies at the most recent Polar Plunge. An untimely thunderstorm put an early end to the recent 2014 Oregon Special Olympics golf tournament.

But that was of little concern to player Patrick Sinnott: There will always be another opportunity for the 30-year-old to show off his athletic prowess.

Patrick, who has Down syndrome, serves as assistant athletics facilities manager at Lewis and Clark College. He was introduced to Special Olympics while he was attending Tigard High School.

At the time, he took part in bowling and basketball — he has played on the Wilsonville Wildcats Special Olympics basketball team. For the past four years, Patrick has helped lead his own Special Olympics team, Homies and Hunnies.

“In high school he was involved in athletic programs at Tigard, that’s kind of been his niche,” his mother, Alisa Sinnott, said. “He was involved in teams when they won state championships in football and basketball - it was 2002 for basketball and 2004 for football — he was a team member and they treated him as such.”

Alisa, meanwhile, had become familiar with Oregon Special Olympics through her job at Central Catholic High School, where she remains in charge of student community service projects, among other things. In connecting students to service opportunities with Special Olympics, it did not take long for her to realize Patrick was perfectly suited for the games.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Patrick Sinnott of Tualatin is a long-time Special Olympian and he has a chest full of medals and awards to prove it. He started competing in bowling and basketball, and he found his Tigard classmates eager supporters.

“He even got a letterman jacket from the school and the team members supported him at Special Olympics events,” Alisa said, “so it was a reciprocal relationship.”

Both past classmates and family members are part of Homies and Hunnies, which competes in golf, and in the annual Special Olympics Polar Plunge fundraising event. This year’s Polar Plunge, held in February, saw more than 3,600 Oregonians raise more than $450,000 for Special Olympics.

The Polar Plunge is also how Patrick found himself connected with a new job, this time with the Tualatin Police Department, where he now volunteers in essentially whatever capacity is needed.

The department takes part each year in the Super Polar Plunge, an offshoot of the Polar Plunge, only far more extreme — participants immerse themselves in frigid waters of the Columbia River 24 times in as many hours. This year, they looked for an individual Special Olympics athlete to focus their attentions on and quickly selected Patrick.

“It was because of the Polar Plunge International,” Alisa said. “The (Tualatin) police department has a team, and they wanted a local athlete to be with them when they went out to different agencies to talk about sponsoring them. So he (Patrick) is now a member of their team.”

In Oregon, there are more than 10,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities training and competing each year in 15 Olympic-style events, including basketball, football, golf, track and field, swimming and more.

Special Olympics is a national nonprofit group that was founded in 1963 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy and wife of Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver.

The first official games were held five years later. In 1971, the U.S. Olympics Committee effectively endorsed the organization by allowing it to use the term “Olympics.” Nowadays, there are more than 4.2 million Special Olympics athletes in 170 countries.

And each one of them is a strong representative for a community that still finds strong stigma standing in the way of more fulfilling lives.

The Sinnotts, for one, aim to try and change that.

“One thing we tried to do with Patrick is to have him around jobs that have him around young people,” said Nick Sinnott. “So the Lewis and Clark job is great for Patrick and he’s worked at Central Catholic and he’s worked with the high school kids, and now he works at Tualatin Police Department.”

“I clean cars,” Patrick said when asked about his latest job.

He’s not able to verbalize much. But that in no way limits Patrick’s ability to carry out his jobs with pride, enthusiasm and – most importantly – skill.

“The important thing as time goes on, and Special Olympics is doing this as well, is that people with disabilities aren’t locked into a particular job skill,” Alisa said. “Over time we’re seeing that everyone has a gift and an interest. And hopefully moving forward into the future we’ll allow folks like Patrick to use their talents and interests instead of pigeonholing them into one particular job or career.”



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