An Exceptional Collegian: Allison Paxton, Beta Nu

Allison Paxton, BN (Bethany College), will be the first collegiate “Exceptional Women” speaker at the 2020 National Convention. She was introduced in the spring 2020 Aglaia magazine (on pages 4-5), and shares more of her story here.

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” is the motto of the Special Olympics. Thanks to Allison Paxton, BN (Bethany College), Special Olympics athletes definitely won at the Field Day she organized!

In the fall of 2019, Allison was serving Bethany College as the Vice President of Traditions for the Student Activities Council and thought it would be a great new event to bring to her campus. She said, “The Bethany community loves to make a difference in the lives of others; thus, we had an amazing opportunity to play an important role in the athletes’ lives and also be impacted by them.”

Allison and her parents.

Bethany was the first college in the state of West Virginia to establish a partnership with the Special Olympics organization, so the planning and coordination involved a lot of learning experiences and some challenges. Allison kept in close contact with Special Olympics employees at the national, state and local level to ensure that every detail of the Bethany event was aligned with the organization’s policies. She said that the volume of emails and frequency of conference calls was sometimes difficult to manage, but she persevered because she remained excited about providing a foundation for this type of event for other schools in the state. Additionally, since Bethany is somewhat remote, Allison worked extremely hard to recruit both volunteers and athletes from both in- and out-of-state.

The Special Olympics Committee included several of Allison’s Phi Mu sisters, and many others volunteered on the day of the event. She said, “Our chapter consists of a multitude of personalities, interests and talents; therefore, it was inspiring to see every one of them use their abilities to impact the lives of those with special needs. Together, sisters helped with registration, worked one on one with participating athletes and led stations. Those that couldn’t be there on the day of the event designed playlists and assembled both volunteer and participating athlete packets. I couldn’t have done it without them!”

Allison (top row, second from right) and 2019 Special Olympics
committee members and athletes at Bethany College.

Having her sisters’ support was especially meaningful to Allison. She explained: “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, in first grade. It was a secret that I held on to up until this point because I desired to be “normal” and was afraid of other’s opinions. At Bethany, I developed close relationships with my Phi Mu sisters. Most of my life, I had felt like an outcast among my peers, but my sorority never gave me that impression. I had finally found a home that celebrated my quirks and welcomed me to a tight-knit sisterhood. They also encouraged me to take on leadership positions in Phi Mu and on campus. Without my Phi Mu sisters, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to tackle large roles such as a leadership position or organizing an event.”

“Once I realized the impact my story could have on those with special needs, I began to tell my closest friends about being on the spectrum,” she said. “Overwhelmed by their support, I had the courage to allow my story to be broadcast in newspaper articles and TV interviews across the country. Immediately, I was met with an outpouring of encouragement from everyone in Phi Mu.”

Allison coaching a young, Special Olympics athlete.

Asked for advice about whether or not to disclose information to Phi Mu sisters or others, Allison said: “Personal information doesn’t have a timetable for disclosure – ultimately, it is your decision to share or not, and at a comfortable pace. It can be very scary; however, the freedom of not carrying the burden alone outweighs the fear. Your sisters will love and support you through the process, and you’ll no longer have to hide a piece of yourself. You were chosen to be a member of this sorority for a reason, and none of those feelings will diminish with the revelation of this personal information.”

“Sharing my diagnosis was liberating but also very difficult at the same time. I grieved the loss of security. It sometimes made me vulnerable to the attacks of others,” she continued. “Not everyone meets my differences with a smile but I was encouraged by my Phi Mu sisters who refuted the negativity with joy and laughter. Our Creed states, ‘Thus being true to the womanhood of love.’ There are no limitations on this love, so it’s important that your sister doesn’t feel ashamed or excluded after sharing her personal story. Our ideals are important, and I believe the best method of support can be found in exemplifying the truths of our Creed.”

Allison will share additional details about Bethany College’s Special Olympics Field Day when she takes the stage at the National Convention during the Exceptional Women Series panel!