In the midst of this year’s Fall Tournament, Special Olympics Durham County soccer athlete Nick Vernon received news that his grandfather had passed away.
With a full day of competition on the horizon, Nick returned home on Saturday evening to be with his family. Although absent on the field for Sunday’s competition, his teammates made sure that Nick’s presence was felt.
Up until Sunday morning, the Durham Bulls had lost or tied every game they played that weekend. Before the day’s games commenced, athlete Chad Masingale offered a prayer in Nick’s honor. His teammates chanted throughout the first game, “Do it for Nick!” They won that game.
“Chad’s spirit carried the team that day,” said Christie Bailes, Nick’s mother. “He wasn’t thinking about himself, he was thinking about someone else. It’s hard to think about other things during the game, but he was thinking about his friend.”
An exceptional cheerleader, Nick would also consider Chad to be an equally exceptional friend. The two have competed alongside each other in various sports, including bowling. When Christie began coaching bowling for Special Olympics North Carolina, the friendship took shape.
“We really got to know Chad and his family,” said Christie. “We have seen Chad grow into such an incredible man.”
Before meeting Chad, Nick was searching for someone to share his affinity for sports with. Since the age of three, he has found his place on the basketball courts, the bowling lanes and the soccer fields. From his many teammates, he would find one of his closest friends.
“Two years ago, my son’s biggest wish was to have a friend,” said Christie. “He said, ‘I wish I could have a friend that I could hang out with.’ Chad has become that for Nick.”
For Nick’s family, the Durham community has become much more than training, competitions and weekly practices for Special Olympics.
“Special Olympics is a family to us,” said Christie. “It’s more than just one day a week. I’ve built so many relationships through Special Olympics. We learn from each other, we teach each other.”
Aside from their athletic accomplishments, Nick’s family is just as proud of the friendships and connections they have made. As Nick once wished for that cherished friendship, Christie has a similar wish for many other athletes to find their place in Special Olympics.
“It is so beneficial for athletes to build these connections,” said Christie. “I just wish that more would get involved.”
Fortunately, Chad and Nick’s story is not unique. Special Olympics North Carolina is home to many athletes who make the journey from teammates to lifelong friends.