An Oak Harbor athlete will be representing Whidbey Island at the Special Olympics USA Games next month in Florida.
Jacquelyn Diaz has played multiple sports since she first began her athletic career almost two decades ago. Diaz, who has used a wheelchair for most of her life, said she often saw family members participating in sports and other activities.
“I finally was like, ‘I need to get up, and I need to find something that I can do,’” she said.
Diaz was born with spina bifida, a condition that occurs when the spinal tube does not close completely. Because of this condition, she cannot walk and has used a wheelchair since she was 3 years old.
“But it doesn’t stop me,” she said.
Diaz first competed in the Special Olympics in 2003. A multi-talented athlete, she has played many sports throughout her history with the competition: bowling, basketball, swimming and athletics, the organization’s track and field event.
In athletics, which Diaz identified as her favorite of the sports she has participated in, her events are the softball throw and the 200 and 400 meter races. She began in the 100 meter race, but after a time decided she needed to push herself more.
“I like the challenge,” she said.
This year, Diaz will be playing a sport she is relatively new to — bocce. Diaz first picked up bocce just three years ago and was rapidly successful, earning the gold medal in singles bocce at the Special Olympics state tournament in 2019. That year’s state level competition was the qualifier for this year’s nationals because the pandemic put subsequent events on hold for two years.
At nationals, Diaz will play singles, doubles and team bocce, the latter of which she has never done at a competition before. Competing with others as opposed to competing solo adds a whole new dynamic to the game and requires additional strategizing, Diaz said.
She has been training and practicing regularly at her Oak Harbor home in preparation for the competition. Her goal is to bring home three gold medals. She said she hopes to advance to the Special Olympics World Games, which will take place next summer in Berlin.
The Special Olympics USA Games will take place June 5-12 in Orlando, Fla. Diaz will be introducing Team Washington at the opening ceremonies via a pre-recorded video.
The athlete said she is looking forward to making new friends, visiting Disney World and, of course, playing the sport that has quickly become one of her favorites.
“I’m really looking forward to the nationals because it’s a bigger venue and more things going on,” she said. “I’m looking to see what everything is all about and giving it everything I can out there.”