Jessica Spitz, 18, is training for one of the biggest days of her life. The Commack, Long Island, High School senior will be competing in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in the 100-yard dash and the shot put.
"When you finish and you know you did a good job you just feel really proud of yourself," she says. "You feel accomplished."
From the moment Jessica joined Special Olympics last year, she was hooked.
"I remember the first practice I was really slow and I didn't really like running and I wasn't sure I was going to do it and I kept practicing and getting a lot faster and now I love running," she says.
Jessica has severe asthma, but says she can now run for up to an hour without using an inhaler. And she's also noticed other changes.
"I'm definitely more confident for like public speaking, and I like have more leadership abilities now," Jessica says. "I feel more comfortable talking to people. And I have a lot more friends, who are now like my family."
Jessica's coach is fellow senior Mallory Dugan, a volunteer for Special Olympics. And while Mallory has taught Jessica how to be faster and stronger, she says Jessica has taught her even more.
"Jess is a true inspiration. She's really inspirational," Mallory says. "As an athlete myself, I know I go through bumps in the road, and I always know I need to push and do my best, Jess has taught me no matter what, you know you can get through it."
Off the field, Jessica loves animals, and hopes to one day become a veterinary technician. She is also a global ambassador for Special Olympics and gives speeches about how it has transformed her life.
"Special Olympics teaches you about teamwork and friendship that will just last a lifetime," she says. "All the friendships I've made and all the leadership stuff I've learned I'll continue to always carry that with me."