Special Olympics Unified Robotics State Championship
This year I had the honor to participate in the Special Olympics Unified Robotics State Championship with my cousin, Gabi. Gabi and her family moved to Oregon when she was really young so I never had a chance to get to know her very well. They moved back to Washington over the summer and she started her freshman year of high school at another local school.
Gabi is a student with special needs and I didn’t think we had much in common. But the more I spent time with her, the more I realized that we have a ton in common. We both LOVE cats, listening to music, and hanging out with our friends and family. We also both play soccer. I also love designing and building robots and I wanted to share that with Gabi too.
I’m on a robotics team at my high school, FRC Team 4911 CyberKnights. In 2015, one of my teammates started Unified Robotics, a program that brings robotics to students with and without intellectual disabilities. I immediately thought about Gabi and how much fun it would be to share robotics with her and compete in a tournament together.
I approached my coach and the Unified Robotics club at my high school to see if we could help Gabi’s school start their own robotics team. They were unable to start a Unified team at her school this year so I decided to form my own team so Gabi could participate. We needed a team name and a uniform. We also needed a LEXO NXT kit so we could build our robot.
Luckily, I had some Christmas money left over so I bought a LEGO kit. I also found some cute robot legging and a dress that looks like a robot with rivets on Amazon.com so we could wear matching outfits. We decided to name our team Metallic Cousins.
The season lasted for six weeks and we met a few times to build the robot and then program it. We both had a hard time staying focused because we really wanted to play with my cats!
Gabi could hardly wait for the competition. My aunt said that Gabi would get up every morning and ask if today was the day for robots and if she could wear our uniform. The competition couldn’t come fast enough for either of us!
In December, our robot was done and we attended the Special Olympics Unified Robotics State Championship at the Pacific Science Center. Up until this point, I didn’t realize just how important this program was for developing awareness and inclusion. There were hundreds of people there watching the matches and everyone was having fun!
Gabi and I finished second in our division and we won the creativity award! We were both a little disappointed because we were hoping to make it into the finals. But I realized that winning the competition wasn’t the reason we were all here. My entire family and Gabi’s entire family was there watching us and spending time together. Gabi and I were getting to know each other better and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
We are both already looking forward to next year’s season. Unified Robotics has grown from 6 teams to 32 teams in Washington State in just one year. Now there are teams across the US and other countries that are interested in started a Unified Robotics program at their school. I can’t even imagine how awesome the competition will be next year and how many thousands of students will be impacted.
If you know someone with special needs/intellectual disabilities, encourage them to get involved. And if you are reading this, consider starting a Special Olympics Unified Robotics program in your school or community. It changed my life and it will change yours too!