Be Brave in the Attempt – Special Olympians
The Special Olympics (SO) hold a special place in my heart – an event I look forward to every spring. Our county games are held the first Thursday in May at our local middle school track and field site. More often than not, the weather is dicey as early May in Maine can be pleasantly sunny and warm (last year) or cold or rainy (both, this year). But the smiles and enthusiasm of the SO athletes warm all of us to the core of our souls as they compete.
“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
This is the motto of the Special Olympics, the motto the athletes repeat with gusto and excitement before the start of the games. Sportsmanship that we should all show in our lives, in the ways we see and treat others. And it shone today despite the cold and rain as close to 300 athletes competed.
Give it your best.
Enjoy the process.
Be proud of your accomplishments.
Celebrate each and every person.
Why do I volunteer year after year? These are my top 5 reasons:
- Joy: the day, no matter how carefully planned and organized by our local leader, Dennis Dean, is always full and chaotic. But the overriding buzz that runs through the athletes, their caregivers, families, volunteers, and spectators, is JOY. Having fun, being cheered and appreciated, and contentment at knowing years of hard work, support, therapy, training, and more have enabled them to compete. The athletes encourage each other, cheer for others, and show such joy and happiness as they receive their ribbons. I whistle, cheer, and smile with each one.
- Connection: the SO are open to people with disabilities of all ages, all abilities. I love to see the elementary students I serve in their little wheelchairs or gait trainers as they roll, power or walk down the track – complete with Tinkerbell and bright blue rain gear; the young adults (who I knew 20+ years ago when they were the little ones) as they excitedly chat about the dinner and dance at the upcoming SO State Games next month and as they give hugs at the finish line; and the community-based athletes who return to compete year after year, including men and women in their 60’s and 70’s. A chance for me to get hugs from so many I now only see yearly. “Remember me from last year, Karen? Did you see I got my haircut? I am still a really fast walker!”
- Families, friends, and schoolmates: the cheering crowd! The encouragement to “do your best” and the appreciation of those who know all the efforts that are involved in the accomplishment of the task – the walking, propelling, throwing, and jumping. Abilities that may have taken many years to learn with more struggle and effort than most athletes have, that can’t be taken for granted, but needs to be appreciated and marveled over. The cheers at the awards ceremonies as the places are announced and the ribbons are awarded are exuberant. Again, the joy on the faces of the athletes and their “tribe” is overwhelming. I could watch for hours.
- Volunteers: the event couldn’t happen without the many community volunteers from so many walks of life, yet come together in support of people with disabilities. Local policemen and state troopers who hand out the ribbons. The local companies who provide the T-shirts, water, and sandwiches. At our games, the volunteers from the local churches, the sailors from the submarines at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, my local hospital and employer, the local fitness club that hands out waters, and the volunteers who come year after year to run the events are priceless. I enjoy meeting these people and watching them engage with the athletes, learning from these athletes with so much to share.
- Reminders: the yearly SO event always recalibrates my perspective as a pediatric physical therapist by reminding me in such a vibrant and visible way that someone’s abilities do not define who they are, how much they are loved, or limit their happiness levels. These Special Olympians know about sportsmanship, friendship, accomplishments, and community. As I head back to the clinic tomorrow, I can look past the impairments, the mounds of paperwork and durable equipment, and the overbooked schedules; I smile, remembering the brave and joyful athletes.