Emmanuel Costellow and the rest of his team from Area 4 – Southeast Region are representing Team Tennessee as they compete in Unified Volleyball in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando, Florida. This group is the first from the area to be sent to USA Games. Area four includes Bradley, Bledsoe, Grundy, Hamilton, Marion, Meigs, McMinn, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties from East Tennessee.
Costellow is a two-sport athlete that competes as a swimmer and as part of the Unified volleyball team. He never thought he would have the opportunity to compete in athletics. At the age of 12, he had a teacher that would later become his coach and change his life. Lindy Blazek introduced Costellow to the idea of competing as she explained the opportunities with Special Olympics. She was the coach of a Special Olympics swim team, but Costellow had no interest. He was hesitant to join because he did not enjoy being in the water. With the support of his coach and determination, he fell in love with swimming.
After two years of competing in an individual sport, Blazek asked Costellow if he’d want to be a part of the Unified Volleyball Team. Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
“It’s been amazing to be a part of a team. It feels like a whole other family. There are a lot of times when I doubt myself. I think if I mess up that it’s going to mess up the whole game,” said Costellow. “I have to stop thinking like that. It’s good to have a team to help me get out of that mindset. It’s good to have people next to you.”
In February, Blazek held the first swim practice of the year. After practice, she told Costellow that the Unified Volleyball Team qualified and were selected to compete in the 2022 USA Games as part of Team Tennessee. He was speechless that he’d be part of the first team from his area to compete in the Games.
“What makes this extra special for me is that I get to prove to people that I am capable. I’m capable of doing things like this. I’m able to compete. I can hit a ball or swim. I can do anything I put my mind to. I feel confident,” said Costellow.
Costellow and the rest of the squad have traveled to Texas and Ohio for other competitions, but he said the competitive levels in Florida are much higher. He looks forward to playing throughout the week, having fun, meeting new people, and visiting Disney World parks.
“I’ve learned that even though I have autism, I should not let that get in the way of me doing what needs to be done to win. Teamwork is everything,” said Costellow. “You’ll get the job done with teamwork every single time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I’m proud to be a part of Special Olympics.”
And guess what? Costellow and Team Tennessee Unified Volleyball won the bronze medal at Special Olympics USA Games.
Team Tennessee is represented by a combination of 139 people with competitors in athletics, basketball, bocce, bowling, flag football, golf, powerlifting, swimming, tennis and volleyball. The USA Games is hosted once every four years and showcases 19 Olympic-style teams and individual sports and 30 events throughout the week, including forums and VIP receptions.