ORLANDO, Fla. — The Westside Blue Thunder unified volleyball team is gearing up for its biggest tournament yet — the 2022 Special Olympics USA.
“Oh yeah, we’re going for the gold. They’ve wanted to do it for a long time. We were hoping we’d be picked, and it finally happened,” Westside Blue Thunder head coach Wilma Wright said.
“We are going to play well, I know that. We just have to work as a team,” said Westside Blue Thunder athlete Jacob Craft.
This mindset is what has made Jacob Craft a fixture on this team.
“He is very dedicated. Has a really positive attitude. He’s ready to volunteer for anything,” Coach Wilma said.
Give back to the organization that made him who he is today.
“I mean, it helped open me up,” Craft said.
“He’s come a long way since we first got him,” said Claudia Tyler-Utzig, Craft’s guardian mother.
His journey to get here began nine years ago when his adoptive parents noticed that Craft lacked motivation and due to his vision problems he qualified for the Special Olympics, so they took him on. quickly registered.
“Once we got him into Special Olympics, he started to see how much he loved it, and we were ready to support him, because we saw how he blossomed. Instead of always opting for the negative, he was going for the positive, and he found he would do better with the positive responses and he really started to blossom after that,” Tyler-Utzig said.
This positive lifestyle continues to shine.
“It’s always nice to put a smile on someone’s face at the end of the day. The negativity, if it were up to me, I’d put it out of the world,” Craft said.
He constantly encourages others around him.
“It’s really a positive thing because he’s a good role model and whenever there are new athletes coming in, he always includes them. He’ll go and make a special effort to make them feel like they’re there. comfortable,” said Coach Wright.
“Just have respect for everyone. Everyone deserves respect, and if you want respect, you have to give it,” Craft said.
As Jacob and his team prepare for the US Games, he thinks about his path and relishes the opportunity before him.
“It’s an honor. It’s like we’re all brothers, so it’s a great honor to play for this team,” Craft said.
A moment of gratitude, all thanks to a simple message.
“You can do whatever you want. Don’t give up,” Tyler-Utzig said.