Champions Together

Seniors makes strides toward helping others, building friendships

While taking a jog, senior Graham Ruselink shows the joy she feels while running alongside her teammates. “Running is something I despise unless I’m doing it with my Champions Together athletes,” said Ruselink. Photo by Phia Foley.

Just as she runs on the court and track, senior Graham Ruselink takes strides toward building new relationships and growing existing friendships with disabled people.

Winning the race or coming in first in the competition does not always make a champion. Instead, it is the teamwork and compassion one shows toward others that truly defines a winner. By these standards, both upcoming senior Graham Ruselink and her mentally handicapped teammates embody champions. Through a program called Champions Together, Ruselink shares the basketball court and track with students in her school who have disabilities. She serves as not only a teammate, but also a mentor, advocate, and friend for her peers. 

Ruselink’s journey with the program started her freshman year of high school when her friend recommended she joined. With the invite, she wrote an essay and was accepted for the position. Thus began her four year commitment to the program and her friendships with the athletes involved. “I’ve been apart of it since freshman year so I’ve made a connection with every single person” said Ruselink. 

This is the biggest achievement for her, the relationships she has grown with the people in the program. Another major takeaway she gained came once she recognized how blessed she is with the life she is living. She learned that she needed to appreciate the qualities she possesses because others are not as fortunate. “They make me appreciate my abilities and the brain that I do have,” she said. 

The happiness that Champions Together brings both Ruselink and her fellow teammates is unbeatable. “They’re so happy about everything even if they have a terrible home life,” she said. 

She brings this happiness outside of her school as well. As an intern at Gigi’s Playhouse, a school for people with Down syndrome, Ruselink will spend nine weeks working with those apart of the program. She not only spreads her passion for people with disabilities within her community, but around the world. On her recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Ruselink encountered a woman with two adopted brothers who are disabled and came from a troubled home life. Their mother stated that she wished she never adopted them, and this really impacted Ruselink. “I’m glad I can love on these kids when there’s so many people in their lives that don’t love them,” she said. With her positive and loving personality, Ruselink uses her compassion for people with disabilities to make a more accepting environment for her teammates and others across the globe.