According to Special Olympics Davidson County athlete Will Gaddis’ mother Cindy, he has always been fast. Recognizing that talent at a young age, Cindy searched for a place where Will could be supported, could feel at home. Five years ago, they found Special Olympics.
“Let’s go where they all understand him – Special Olympics,” said Cindy. “We wanted to find a place that understood his differences, but celebrated them too.”
This year, the Gaddis family celebrates him being selected to participate in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida, held June 5-12. A member of the Team Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC) delegation, Will will compete in athletics. Talented in his ability to run fast, Will is driven by sportsmanship and friendship above all.
“I think the best thing about me is that I am grateful for the way God made me,” said Will. “I want to be a friend to anyone who is different. If they need help, I will help them. Special Olympics has changed my life a lot.”
In 2019, Will represented SONC in competing at the Penn Relays, the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States, where he won a gold medal in the 100-meter dash.
“He’s always the first one, when he wins, to turn around and shake everyone’s hand,” said Cindy. “Even when he loses, he shakes the winner’s hand.”
On and off the track, Will is ready to help where he is needed. At home, that means helping on the family farm. Cindy, who runs a learning center for middle and high school homeschoolers, called Creative Learning Center, employs Will as her “righthand man.”
“I work with horses for a living,” said Will. “I help train them sometimes, give them water, pet them and ride them. I also work at my mom’s school to be friends with the kids.”
The students enrolled at Creative Learning Center attend four days a week for four hours, exploring the outdoors, learning social skills, volunteering in the community, embarking on field trips and expressing themselves through creativity. Will is onsite every single day, serving as a mentor and friend to the students.
Will has six brothers and two sisters. Two of his siblings have intellectual disabilities and most of his family lives on the farm, or as they call it, the compound. Spending much of his time immersed in the outdoors, Will took an interest in learning more about the Cherokee Nation and its history. He has learned to sew replicas of tribal clothing and has mastered various whistles, which were used for centuries by Native American warriors. With his wealth of knowledge, Will aims to audition to become a reenactor for the French and Indian War.
Sure, Will can run fast. What makes him such a great athlete is his ability to recognize others for their strengths too, regardless of their culture, where they are from or what they look like. For that, Special Olympics is the right place to be.
“Everyone is happy for each other, supporting each other,” said Cindy. “Everyone is at all different levels. You can be excited for everyone at their own level. It’s that inclusive community. He can be completely himself.”
In June, Will joins 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean in Orlando, Florida, for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. From their many walks of life, he looks forward to learning more about what brings them together.