Identical twin sisters Bernadette and Antoinette Valencia credit the Special Olympics with providing confidence, newfound friends and even the strength to help fight cancer.
The high school graduates both suffer from subdural hematoma, a trauma-induced disability that left the girls developmentally slow. It was believed to be caused by an allegedly abusive babysitter, according to the family.
Even with the disability, the girls’ mother refused to let them have a negative attitude.
“I was determined that I was going to take them, one on one, and teach them that they were going to do the best, and give them that positive attitude and know that they can – even with a disability – you can make it, you can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do and have anything you want to have. So that’s how I raised them and I do it to this day,” their mother Sandra Valencia said.
A few months after completing their college coaching courses and earning their certificates, the girls saw a newspaper ad that changed their lives: Special Olympics was in search of coaches.
The twins got the job and began coaching and competing in the games.
In 2010, Antoinette Valencia was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She credits some of her recovery to support from her Special Olympics Southern California family.
“It gave me self-esteem so I could fight cancer, because I had supporters with me throughout my treatment. Our coach and then a couple of our teammates: they bring me stuff in the hospital – stuffed animals,” Antoinette Valencia said.
After a lengthy surgery, Antoinette Valencia received a clean bill of health.
“I have truly been blessed with these girls,” Sandra Valencia said. “Difficult times, I believe, only make us more humble.”
Special Olympics Southern California is hosting its Summer Games in Long Beach on June 8 and 9. More than 1,000 athletes are expected to compete.
Watch: KTLA 5 will air a Special Olympics TV special showcasing more athletes and future games on Saturday, June 1 at 5 p.m.