HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Special Olympics would not be possible without the help of coaches who understand the need and the student-athletes drive to compete. 

Peter Leal is a coach at Edcouch-Elsa High School. He has been involved with the Special Olympics for the past 22 years. According to Leal, the experience is special every year. 

“No matter if the athlete is first or last, they still come out like they won the race, it just inspired me to come and help,” said Leal.

According to Leal, for some student-athletes, competition begins at a young age.

“We start them very young, I think at eight we can start competing, at five we can start practicing so it’s a process at the school level,” said Leal. 

Leal said the growth his students have in the preparation for the Special Olympics is rewarding.

He said some parents are surprised to see what their child is capable of doing competitively.

“Some of these parents don’t even know that the athletes can run or throw a ball in competition because it’s different doing it at home,” said Leal. 

Leal encourages parents to allow their kids to try something new and give the Special Olympics a chance.

“Some of these athletes never go out of the valley, never compete in anything,” said Leal. “We are trying to bring those parents and say, come and see the Special Olympics to see what we do for them, what they do for themselves.”

Along with other coaches, Leal said it is important to be a support system for athletes with disabilities. 

“We all do everything together,” said Leal.