'I matter, I exist, and I have a right to play,' says Tyler Lagasse

In 2017, Tyler Lagasse received an honorary ESPY award in recognition of his talent, dedication and enthusiasm for athletics. Courtesy Charles Hirsch

All my life I have taken an unconventional path because of my unorthodox disability called autism. I have overcome so much for a long time. My life has been a fight to be included. I spent 13 years commuting in traffic to attend special needs schools and another eight years to graduate from community college. Autism continues to be a constant struggle for me. Every day I have some degree of trouble processing my surroundings, changes in routine and unexpected events -- to name a few. Golf is exactly like autism: They both have strange twists and turns, and it all comes down to how he or she reacts or responds to them. Golf is also like life, and to me, golf is life. I use golf to show others that what I am living with is real, what I go through is real and there is simply no avoiding or denying it. Great words of advice to help get me through tough days include, "having faith in your abilities can only take you so far, it's all a matter of getting the job done."

As a Special Olympics athlete, I learned to adapt to certain situations, to prepare for the worse and to be resilient. Special Olympics has provided a platform for me to excel not only in golf, but also in school, work, public speaking and life. I've gained experience and confidence as a result of my involvement, and I've revealed my true colors. Special Olympics has allowed me to travel the country, to get my speeches on YouTube and to write about my story in a book, "What Do You Say?: Autism with Character." Special Olympics has let me use my skills to say, "I matter, I exist and I have a right to play."

My proudest moment as a Special Olympics athlete was when I got invited along with three other Special Olympics golfers to play at a pro-am golf tournament in 2012. I got to go to the Congressional Country Club on the week of the AT&T National. It was one of the best days of my life, getting to play on a PGA Tour course. That day I made a birdie on the 18th hole all by myself, and my pro teammate, Gary Woodland, made a hole-in-one. I finished third in that pro-am, and I got to meet -- and be congratulated by -- Tiger Woods, the one who inspired me to play golf when he won the 1997 Masters. Obviously, nothing can top that experience.

The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games will be my third USA Games. I won silver in 2010 and 2014. Each time I go to these Games, I'm reminded that I'm among so many people living with intellectual disabilities. It's a big world, and we're here to show everyone who we are inside as well as outside. I'm blessed and thankful to be a part of a celebration of greatness, humanity and inclusion. These Games are a way of saying, "We are here!" These Games are our Olympics. #RiseWithUs

Tyler Lagasse is a multisport Special Olympics athlete who has competed at the state level in golf, Alpine skiing and basketball. In 2007, he became a Special Olympics Global Messenger and is a member of the Special Olympics Massachusetts Hall of Fame. Lagasse is working toward a bachelor's degree in earth, environmental and atmospheric sciences at UMass Lowell.