Bothell High graduate (and Russell Wilson fan) will carry the torch in the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg leading up to the 2018 USA Games in Seattle.
Like his hero Russell Wilson, Jeremy Wall is an athlete at the top of his game. At 38, he is training to compete in three track-and-field events in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games this summer in Seattle.
Not only will Wall compete alongside more than 4,000 athletes from around the country, but he also will be carrying the torch in the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg in the week leading up to opening ceremony July 1.
But as anyone who knows Wall will attest, those things are incidental details, because what he really does is open doors between the worlds of the disabled and the world at large. How else could all this be happening to him 35 years after he was diagnosed with multiple cognitive disabilities, mild cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder?
“For a long time he had uncontrolled seizures, which are really scary for a parent to watch,” says his mother, Norma Wall. “But after facing the issue that he had disabilities, we just made up our minds that we were going to do whatever we could do to help him be the best person he could be.”
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Years before the term “inclusion” entered the national vocabulary, Wall was opening doors in classrooms, in the workplace and in society.
“He was sort of on the cutting edge in special education,” Norma Wall says. “He plowed the way for other people with special needs.”
Jeremy Wall adheres to a training regimen that even younger athletes would find taxing. He rises at 7:30 most mornings and literally hits the ground running, before clocking in for his shift at PCC Community Markets in Bothell, where he is a courtesy clerk. After work on Mondays and Thursdays he hits Gold’s Gym, where he works on his core and upper-body strength for carrying the torch.
“This is the most special year of his life,” says Peggy Haywood, a runner and trainer who has known Wall for nearly 10 years. “He is the epitome of an athlete. He’s disciplined. He makes plans. He sets goals and works toward them. He’s everything you’d want an athlete to be.”
While Wall is avid fan of Russell Wilson, it’s not the Seahawks quarterback’s passing accuracy or uncanny scrambling he admires most.
“It’s his attitude,” Wall says.
Wall began his Special Olympics journey at Bothell High School, where he took a mixture of both inclusive and special-education classes, and made an impression on special-education teacher Barb Blakeslee, who’s now at Northshore High School.
“She was an inspiration for me, and a very good teacher for me,” Wall says.
While he says Blakeslee is an important part of his story, Blakeslee points out that the relationship works both ways, and that working with students like Wall helped inspire her to write “My Transition Portfolio,” a classroom workbook to help students with intellectual disabilities transition from classroom to society.
The workbook addresses such potential challenges as interviewing skills, résumés and navigating the roommate relationship.
“The biggest challenge they face is that they aren’t given the tools early enough,” Blakeslee says. “They need to be able to go into work environments and say what they need and want. They have to be self-advocates.”
The fullest expression of Wall’s journey of inclusion will be the 2018 USA Games this summer, which he calls “the dream of my life.”
More than 4,000 athletes and coaches, 10,000 volunteers, 10,000 family members and 70,000 spectators will arrive in Seattle for the six-day event, which is held every four years. Before the opening ceremony July 1, athletes and police officers from across the U.S. join forces for the Law Enforcement Torch Run. These “guardians of the flame” will carry the torch on routes throughout the state over five days.
This year, athletes challenge Seattle to “Rise With Us” and make the 2018 USA Games the most inclusive Special Olympics to date. Event sponsor Microsoft envisions a “city of inclusion” where everyone is welcome and can contribute their talents and skills.
In that “city of inclusion,” Jeremy Wall will fit right in. After all, he helped build it.
The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will showcase the abilities of athletes with intellectual disabilities, promote the ideals of acceptance and inclusion through sport, and celebrate the transformative power of Special Olympics.