Stengele recounts Special Olympics’ impact on daughters


Photo courtesy of Scott Stengele

Stengele hugs Hannah after she won a gold medal at the 2014 Special Olympics National Games.

Zoe Conner-Bennett

There was nothing particularly special about this race. There was no one noteworthy in the pool. There was no record being broken. In fact, there was only one girl still swimming. Yet, every person in the crowd was on their feet.

“She had basically only one good arm and one good leg,” said Scott Stengele, CHS’s longtime math teacher. “But the crowd stood up and cheered her on to the finish line. I still choke up thinking about it, because it’s just an amazing thing to witness.” This was the event that invested Stengele and his two daughters in the Special Olympics.

Stengele’s daughters are both diagnosed with developmental delays. Katy, age 33, and Hannah, age 30, have been participating in Special Olympic competitions since they were eight and 11 years old, respectively. The two first started their Special Olympics careers in swimming, but switched their focus to bocce when the family moved to New Jersey in 2002.

Initially, the sporting aspect didn’t matter to Stengele.  

“I was just looking for them to find some friends, find some kids that were a lot like them,” Stengele said. “I had a sneaking suspicion they would really enjoy the social aspect.”

To the surprise of their father, the two quickly found success as athletes.

I got to participate in the week long National Games back in 2014, and that in itself was the most amazing opportunity I have ever had,” Hannah said.

As for Katy, she and Stengele will be competing in the state bocce event this year during the first weekend of June.  

“Special Olympics is starting to emphasize what they call unified sports,” Stengele said, which involves athletes with and without disabilities competing alongside each other.  This will be Stengele’s second time competing with Katy.

Stengele said he is grateful that the organization provides his daughters the opportunity to participate in activities that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Hannah, too, said she is grateful for the new perspective the Special Olympics have granted her.

It’s given me a whole new look into a world where people with all different disabilities are welcome and no one will judge you based on what health issues you deal with,” Hannah said.  

Stengele said he often thinks back to that impactful moment in the pool which, to him, speaks as to what the Special Olympics are all about.  

“The courage, the persistence that it takes to do something like that…  it’s an example for a lot of other people,” Stengele said.

Hannah agreed with her father.

“Just try your hardest, no matter what competition you are doing. Don’t let anyone tell you any different,” she said. “Remember the Special Olympics motto, ‘Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’”

Brave, like the girl in the pool; she finished the race.