From yesterday: What I Owe to The Special Olympics…Part 1
So, what did the Special Olympics give to me?
In a word, growth. In that one day, in those few hours, I grew in my humanity. I could talk all day about how the Special Olympics changed me, but I’ll just highlight the most important points. I’ll try not to bore you…you’re welcome.
The first thing I noticed at last year’s Special Olympics track meet was the vast amount of non-Olympians. There were many families, like our own, who were there in support of their loved one. This was not just an event for Mom and Dad; there were siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends. Some children had their own cheering sections. It was crazy! (In a good way, of course.)
There were special education teachers, teachers’ aids, and health care providers everywhere. I have the utmost respect for these professionals. They face challenges like no other. Their work is not glamorous, they are often under-appreciated, and because some kids don’t progress, they don’t often see the fruits of their labor. Yet, they continue to forge ahead, pushing their own limits, putting the good of the students first. We are fortunate enough to have a teacher like this. She’s an amazing woman who, in a relatively short amount of time, has helped The Older Boy progress consistently for the first time in his life. She feels a true love for her students and it shows.
What amazed me the most about the crowd though, was the amount of people who didn’t personally know any of the Olympians: the volunteers. The people who gave up their personal time to help. Just because. The Coast Guard was there, cheering on the kids, giving out ribbons, and posing endlessly for photos. (Sorry guys, obsessive lady with a camera coming through…Smile big!) The local high schools had students there, who had the major responsibility of hugging the athletes. For every event, there were droves of teens waiting at the finish line, each assigned one person. It didn’t matter if the child was first or last, they all got an equal opportunity love fest, complete with squeals, clapping, jumping for joy, and of course, the hugs. I was truly impressed with these 15-17 year old kids, both boys and girls, who for that day, didn’t care about how cool they looked or what their weekend plans were. They were focused 100% on the kids.
All of these different people, coming together for the same purpose, gave me a sense of unity that I had never experienced before. It was a true community. We were all different in age, sex, race, etc, but we were unified in support for the handicapped. If only the world could always be like that…sigh… But, I digress.
The Special Olympics also brought to me a new level of compassion. I’ve always been pretty sympathetic towards others. When you’ve been bullied in your childhood, you gain a soft spot for the underdog. You know what it feels like to be hurt, and you don’t want others to feel that same pain. I was not a stranger to feeling compassion for others, but seeing so many kids with so many disabilities really tugged on my heartstrings. Some were very severely handicapped. Some didn’t even really realize where they were or what was going on (they didn’t participate in the Olympics but were there as spectators). These individuals are truly vulnerable. Imagine not being able to take care of the most basic human needs…feeding yourself, dressing yourself, bathing, etc. It’s sad.
As much sorrow that I may hold for the severely handicapped, it doesn’t compare to the feelings that I have for their parents. I have a new appreciation for my own situation because of those parents. Some days I’m tired. Really tired. And I’m fortunate–my child can dress himself. My child can get himself a snack, feed himself, bathe himself. I don’t have to take care of his every little need. I can’t imagine how exhausted I’d be if I had to tend to him 24/7 like some other parents. I honestly don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how mothers and fathers can give everything they have to their children and still be able to function, sometimes surviving on very few hours of sleep. To see these parents with their children was extremely humbling. It made me stop for a moment and really think about my situation. I am grateful for John Edward’s self-reliance in these areas. We are truly blessed; there is always someone who is struggling more than you. We are just too self involved to see it.
The most important thing that the Special Olympics gave to me was a true love of neighbor. Other than The Older Boy and his teachers, I knew no one at this event last year. They were all strangers to me, yet I felt a deep love for them. I cried while a man joined his son in running with the torch for the opening ceremonies. I smiled when a nearby teacher yelled, “You go, baby!” to her student on the track. I laughed when a mentally challenged boy pointed to himself and gave a thumbs up to the crowd. I felt proud when I heard a mother tell her son, “You did it! I knew you could! I knew you could!” I melted when a rugged looking father was brought to tears over his small son’s completion of a race. I felt what they felt. My heart brimmed with love for these strangers. I was on emotion overload.
It’s been one year since my first experience with the Special Olympics. Today, we will be returning for another track meet, and The Older Boy is excited beyond words. He has been counting down for weeks. One thing is very different though. I’m not worried or anxious. I’m actually looking forward to today’s events. Instead of worrying about how my son may be negatively influenced, I’m excited to see how we may all be positively influenced. The Special Olympics changed my life. It strengthened my soul. It made me better.
So, what do I owe to the Special Olympics? An immense amount of gratitude. It gave me a sense of unity, compassion, gratitude, and love. I’m eternally grateful for this personal growth.
Please join me in praying for all of the athletes, families, volunteers, teachers, and staff who will be participating today and every day in the Special Olympics.
If you would like to see how you can get involved or make a donation to the Special Olympics, please go to www.specialolympics.org.