Lost Faith In Society? Go Here For Hope

“Part of the problem with the word disabilities is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.”—Mr. Rogers

Hostility. Arrogance. Self-absorption. Turn on the t.v. and unkind people scream at each other. I win. You lose. It doesn’t matter the topic—important or trivial—real life or “real life.” Ego and aggression rule the day. Depressing, isn’t it?

What if I told you there was a place showcasing humanity’s best? Where goodwill and dignity radiate throughout the space? Where we can put aside differences and unite in a common purpose? There is such a place and that place is The Special Olympics.

Special Olympics: The Antidote To Despair

The Special Olympics community is my antidote to despair. My son Jack joined swimming 8 years ago and loves it. He comes for the pool and the team, but stays for the occasional pizza party after practice!

Special Olympics: The Many Gifts

Special Olympics gives me the gift of perspective. When I struggle with my own adversity, I go to a practice or a meet and I am humbled. I see role models for bravery, dignity, and love. Special Olympics brings out the best in everyone—not just the athletes.

“In Ancient Rome the gladiators went into the arena with these words on their lips: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”—Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Special Olympics: The Swim Meet

The Special Olympics Swim Meets always pulse with vitality—exuberant volunteers, dedicated coaches, roaring crowds. Before the first event, everyone recites The Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” That moment never fails to bring me to tears. I am choked up even writing this down.

Special Olympics: The Race

Jack always competes in the first two events and I am his helper in the water. No matter the event, he flips to his back and contentedly floats.

His goal is not to win, or even to be brave like the Oath says. His actual goal is to be in the pool as long as possible. He loves water and figures, Why rush through the race? When you finish, you have to get out!

People shout encouragement to Jack as he floats dreamily on his back in the icy cold pool and I frantically dog paddle him 25 meters to the wall. His competitors have since finished and are already out of the pool, toweling off.

He remains in the frigid water, just enjoying the moment and the crowd’s cheers. No sense of urgency. He could float all day. He just smiles and waves and my heart swells with joy.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.”—Helen Keller

While I freeze in the pool, I reflect on how far Jack has come. When he was a baby, he was trapped in his mind, with minimal connection to the outside world. Now he smiles and waves to the masses, feeding on their approval.

Special Olympics: Gratitude

I hurry to the blessed relief of my warm towel. I see my joy and pride for our athletes reflected on the faces of other parents in the crowd. You are not alone. You are respected, valued and welcomed here. You are enough.

“You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.”—Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver created a small summer camp in 1962, a forerunner of today’s Special Olympics. Angered by discrimination against cognitively challenged people, she created Camp Shriver for children with intellectual disabilities. Back then, people with special needs were hidden from the mainstream—and often forgotten. Check out  http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=13312264 to watch “Brave in the Attempt,” an engrossing video about The Special Olympics’s proud history. And grab some tissues—Mike and I cry every time we watch!

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