STRIKING OPPORTUNITY FOR JESPY BOWLER by Ellen Donker
Updated: Mar 22, 2019
Jane Clark chosen for Special Olympics World Games
For the past five years, bowling has been a fun activity on Fridays for Jane Clark. A Bronx native and client of JESPY House for 20 plus years, Clark enjoys the camaraderie and competition of bowling in a league.
On September 21, she received some news that is a first not only for herself but for JESPY House where she lives: Clark will be competing in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games, set for March 14 through 21 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
As the first Special Olympics World Games in the Middle East/North Africa region, Clark will be joining more than 7,000 athletes from 170 countries who will compete in 24 summer sports, along with 2,500 coaches, 20,000 volunteers and a half million spectators. For someone who has never travelled outside North America, this is a life-changing opportunity. And for JESPY House, a nonprofit that helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities like Clark lead independent lives, sending a client to Abu Dhabi is clearly a milestone.
Executive Director Audrey Winkler says, “Jane came to JESPY from the Bronx when she was 30 years old and has always lived life ‘big.’ With support from JESPY counselors and resources she has flourished over the years, distinguishing herself at full-time jobs, immersing herself in activities like bowling and now, doing something that most of us could only dream of achieving.”
As an individual with intellectual disabilities, Clark has had to work hard to learn how to bowl. Her coach, Wallace Tillman, explains, “In the beginning, Jane only threw the ball in the gutter. It took her a long time to process her thoughts on aiming the ball.” He tried many tactics, including having her take three steps and then roll a tennis ball at a line of empty soda cans. Eventually she began to use a bowling ball and realized it wasn’t as heavy as she had thought.
Clark’s greatest challenge has been putting multiple actions – walking, positioning her arm and throwing the ball – in one fluid motion. Nevertheless, she has shown great accomplishment over the years and this past July represented Team New Jersey in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle, scoring as high as 134 and winning some serious hardware: a silver medal in singles and team, and a gold in doubles.
Tillman’s work with Clark extended beyond that of a typical coach. He also acted as mentor and motivator. According to Tara Roberts, JESPY community relations and marketing supervisor, “He was very instrumental in getting Jane focused” and often tracked her down and called her to remind her about practice. Time management is one of the skills that Clark is working on. Reflecting on why she pursues her sport, Clark says, “I love bowling because it’s competitive and fun. I love having people cheer me on. I love getting a spare and strike.”
It’s been 50 years since the Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver. As a pioneer in the struggle for global rights and acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities, the organization has grown to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports. Its mission is to provide intellectually-disabled children and adults opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community. In the process, they achieve the confidence that comes with acceptance and success. This has certainly been true for Clark.
Although bowling is not part of the Olympic sports, it is among the most popular in Special Olympics. According to the organization, it is particularly beneficial to people with intellectual disabilities since it provides physical exercise as well as participation and social integration.
Roberts has known Clark since her first day at JESPY House and notes the positive impact of Special Olympics. Thrilled for the opportunity Clark has to represent the United States in the World Games, she says, “There’s no one more determined than Jane! I have no doubt she’ll perform well and have an incredible adventure along the way. Jane will be a great ambassador for JESPY House.” Tillman looks forward to seeing Clark’s hard work pay off. “I think she’s going to be great. She’s tried really hard.”
Clark clearly relishes being the first JESPY House client to participate in the Special Olympics World Games and does not seem daunted by the travel. She is hoping that her brother Ira and his wife will make the trip to support her. When asked about preparation, she says, “I will train very hard, stay focused and try to get strikes and spares so I can win a gold.” Stay tuned – there’s every reason to believe she’ll do it.