At 65 years old, 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds, Maggie Sebastian might not look like your typical competitor, but don’t let her small stature fool you. All it takes is a crack of her smile and a taste of her no-nonsense attitude to realize she is a force to be reckoned with.
Sebastian is somewhat of a success story within the Special Olympics — and not just because of all the medallions, titles and awards she has racked up in the 40 years she has participated in the organization. Sebastian — who spent much of her childhood growing up in the Ladd School because her mother could not care for her — has grown into a strong, independent woman, surrounded by her beloved friends, teammates and coaches. These successes, she admits, are a tribute to the skills she learned playing sports and being a part of many teams in the Special Olympics.
“All I do is to just try my best everyday,” said Sebastian. “I don’t have to be perfect, just as long as I try and have confidence in myself. That’s what I have gotten most [from the Special Olympics]. It’s given me a lot of confidence.”
Her personal success story and her continual participation and support of her teammates merited Sebastian some well-earned recognition earlier this month. On Feb. 9, Sebastian became the first athlete — along with a male counterpart — to be inducted in the Special Olympics Rhode Island Hall of Fame.
A few years ago Sebastian was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame of New England and the International Basketball Hall of Fame.
“She has nice leadership skills that she can apply to every day,” said Joni Lonczak, of the Adeline LaPlante Memorial Center, who has been Sebastian’s coach since 1984. “On the team, they listen to Maggie.”
In her 40-year career with the Special Olympics, Lonczak and Sebastian have traveled the country playing tennis — Sebastian’s favorite — softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, skiing, and just about every other sport you can imagine. For Sebastian, her involvement is choice for a healthy lifestyle. She practices inside or outside — weather permitting — and constantly pushes herself and her team to do their best. In a team environment that functions almost like a family after spending so much time and so many years together, Lonczak said Sebastian has earned the role of matriarch.
“She has grown into a teaching role,” said Lonczak. “She does that now. Players that aren’t that athletic, she teaches them how to play.”
The role, however, hasn’t always come easy to Sebastian. She admits over the years she had to overcome her own shyness — a symptom of her institutionalized childhood.
“I think I’ve gotten better with sports and my patience, but sometimes those referees, oh boy,” said Sebastian with a roll of her eyes. “You have to stay calm, relaxed. You learn to bite your tongue.”
Sebastian works as a teacher’s aid at South Kingstown High School, she has been with the district for 20 years. She works with students with disabilities, a job she said she finds both rewarding and challenging given the obstacles she has overcome in her own life.
Sebastian is modest in speaking of her own accomplishments, but not when talking about those of her friends and family. Lonczak said Sebastian’s willingness to give to her loved ones has not only helped them succeed, but taught Sebastian the patience, confidence and leadership that have allowed her to build her own happy life as well. She is the embodiment of Special Olympics athlete and wears her new badge with honor.
“If we could have more athletes with her attitude and with her willingness to play, it would be wonderful,” said Lonczak.