Going the Distance: Nikilani Rojas goes to the Special Olympics

We are so excited for former Imua Family Services’ keiki and veteran Camp Imua camper, Nikilani Rojas. Known as “Nik” to those close to her, the 18 year old has begun training to compete as a 2014 USA Special Olympic Athlete.  Niki along with nine other athletes, will represent Hawai`i at Princeton University Aquatics Center starting Saturday June 14, 2014. Niki will compete in both freestyle and her favorite breast stroke.

We here at Imua know all too well that it takes a village to raise a child. Niki’s mother and number one advocate answered a few questions for us about their journey.

1. Can you take us back to when you first learned about Niki’s Autism diagnosis?

As an infant I knew Nikilani was special.  Call it Mommy intuition at that point as the official diagnosis didn’t come until she was 4 years old.  We had taken her to a Geneticist who visited Honolulu twice a year, an expert in this field.  I remember him holding Niki, talking with her, measuring her body parts and doing a lot of documenting.  I remember he taking a good look at her toes and noting their short length, and I was thinking I thought they were just perfect.  He was understanding and compassionate.  He leaned over to me, touched my knee and told me none of this was my fault.  He obviously understood that parents blame themselves for their children’s challenges.  I burst into tears.  He then went on to tell us that she did fall under the Autism Spectrum, had signs of Asperger’s Syndrome, and that he expected that although her life skills would take time, she would eventually live a very full, independent life.  She would need therapeutic support and to expect that each skill might take 5-15 years longer than the norm. We had very mixed emotions – elated she would have a full life, concerned for the challenges that laid ahead.  No matter what, we knew we had a very special girl and we would do anything to maximize her full potential and ensure she was happy.

2. Could you have dreamt she’d one day represent the Aloha State at the Special Olympics?

Oh my goodness, we had no idea!  Each life skill and sport has been a big learning curve for Nik, but she has conquered each one. We are so very proud of her accomplishments and are honored that she is representing Hawaii.  This is truly an exciting time.

3. How has Imua played a role in Niki’s life?

IFS was our “turn to” organization to support Niki’s challenges.  We met IFS when she was just 18 months old and not walking.  They embraced us with open arms, did a full review of Niki’s achievements to date and those areas we would need to focus on.   IFS supported Niki, of course, but they were also there for us.  We knew we were blessed having such a dedicated agency to support Niki’s development.

4. How can we help to support Niki during her journey to the Special Olympics?

Excitement is in the air at the Rojas household.  Special Olympics Maui supporters will be coordinating a fundraiser for Maui’s athletes this Spring, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, if anyone is interested in supporting our special athletes in any way (volunteering, donations, etc), please feel free to contact me and we will make sure that you get connected!  Niki also welcomes emails of support at nikilanirojas@yahoo.com or on her Facebook page

5. Can you share a piece of advice, from your experience, for parents who are starting to deal with a child with special needs?

That’s a very big question, however the first thing that comes to mind is to ensure that you know as a parent that you are blessed with this special child.  Yes, there are challenging moments for your child, you and your family, and yet each achievement is extra special.  Their innocent and pure look on life is inspiring.  Nikilani has truly given us a more exciting and productive life than we could have ever imagined, and all with a love of life and everyone in it!  Be determined, be dedicated, and be their advocate!

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