Thursday, May 11, 2006

Special Olympics

I was really wondering how to write about this. Most stories about the Special Olympics contain lots of syrupy platitudes about the human dignity of the participants, the selfless volunteers, the chance to excel, and all that stuff. That is all there, but it's all pretty much been said before.

On the other hand, people like to joke about it. We admire the athletes who train vigorously for years so that they can be at their peak performance for that once every four years opportunity to excel, but we often tell jokes about 'the riders of the little school bus'.

The fact is, there is a political party in America that styles itself as the champion of the down-trodden and the victims of misfortune. They are the party of compassion. They have invented the concept of 'politically correct', lest someone say something that would offend someone else.

Still, this party, this paragon of compassion, could not resist the opportunity to put in a good dig this past presidential election. They said that voting for their opponent was like running in the Special Olympics because if you win, you're still a retard.

Well, my son did win, but he is no retard. I don't put a whole lot of stock into IQ tests, but his was tested at about 135 or so (which makes me want to put some stock into those tests).

Donald has Asperger's, which is a mild form of autism. This makes life a challenge for him -- a challenge that I can understand very well. Most of us have the tools that we need to get along socially hard-wired into our brains. In the case of someone with Autism, those social instincts just don't work very well. This leaves the child open to soul-crushing ridicule and taunting in school. I thank God for the hard work of the people at the Pine River school district, because they are sparing my oldest son a lot of the damage that was done to me at that age.

There are other issues related to autism -- tics, the tendency to obsess over the interest of the day, and a number of other things. Add that to ADHD and Atypical Bipolar, and life can be difficult.

But the Special Olympics is there for people who have difficulties that the rest of us can barely understand, and would rather not think about.

A few days ago, Don's picture appeared in the local Cadillac paper. He was recruited to be the flag bearer for the starting ceremonies. The drill team that was there from the American Legion was very kind and helpful. Being the center of attention in that kind of a situation was very difficult for Don, but he made it through. His mom and I are very proud of him.

Don was in three events, which seems to be the standard. His first was the fifty meter dash.

He has never fancied himself as an athlete, but he ran well. He shaved a little off of his best time.

We spent a lot of time in the grassy area inside the track. The participants, volunteers, teachers, and parents all hung around in that area. Some went to the craft tables or the face painting table. Soon, Don's name was called for the 100 meter dash.

In the few minutes before that, an adult who looks to be in his 30s, but couldn't be over 26 (the maximum age of the participants) um... expressed his enthusiasm for running the race.

Don was rather intimidated by this guy's enthusiasm and age. He is tall, has a bushy gray mustache, and has a strong wiry build (except for a slight beer gut). He talked about how he was going to run the race to win, but didn't forget to encourage the others. This last fact speaks well of his maturity, as well of the training he has received. I mean, he wasn't nearly as obnoxious as some of the professional boxers I have seen -- and he has every excuse.

But Don was sure he was going to lose. He couldn't see himself beating this guy. To be honest, I didn't see him beating this guy. That isn't the point, though. The point is to run the race as best as you can.

So, before Don got to the starting blocks, I stationed myself part of the way down the track and preset my focus on a mark in Don's lane.

The starting gun went off, and Don took off like a shot. I think he was surprised to find himself ahead of the older guy, and that urged him on. I snapped a single picture as he passed the mark, and turned to watch as he took first place. You could tell that the older guy was disappointed, but he took it well. That spoke quite well of his maturity -- maturity that seems to be missing in some of the professional athletes I have seen.

But Don... Don got a really good boost to his self-confidence from this one. I hope he remembers this for a very long time. In fact, I think I'll make sure that he remembers it by using it as an example of how he excel and win even when he feels like he can't. With some motivation, he was able to shave two seconds off of his best time.

Mary's viewpoint:

As a High School Student, I helped out at Special Olympics with the National Honor Society. I also spent 3-4 years working as the nurse coordinator for the multi-handicap clinic at Children's Hospital of Michigan. I know how hard those kids try sometimes. It never occurred to me during those times that one day I would be the parent of a child who would qualify as a participant in the Special Olympics.

Well, Life is a journey that can take you to some unexpected places. I remember when Don was eight years old, the cub scout troop was marching in the Memorial Day Parade in Ferndale. I put in formation with the rest of the scouts. Then I told Don to listen to the Scoutmaster and do whatever he said to do. I thought moms and siblings were not supposed to march along with the scouts and leaders, at least they never did when I was a girl scout. I then went to stake out a spot to watch along the parade route. Turned out that I could have marched right along with the rest of Pack 1221 and was probably supposed to. I just didn't know that. Don did just fine that time, just like he did yesterday. But in both instances it was a real triumph for this otherwise intelligent boy to get through what can be nervewracking scary situations for him, without me standing right by his side. So much so that I start to cry when I think about them even now when they're all over. Yeah, I know. Some day I'll look back and wonder what the big deal was anyway.

Just remember that Special Olympics athletes really are special. It takes someone special to be able to run the 50 meter dash when they are blind and have to totally trust their coach. Or do the softball throw when your arms are weak from cerebral palsy. Or the running long jump when you have Autism or Down's Syndrome.


Blogger hisdearheart said...

I want to see the rest of Mary's story. My son has Asperger Syndrome, too. He's 15 now and he says his first year of high school (now) is the best he's ever had. How cool is that? I've been working for him since before he entered kindergarden and 9th grade is his best ever. It's nice to see it finally happening for these guys, isn't it?

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Tracey said...

So when do we get to see the pic of Don running his race? Kathy would be interested since she is in track now. She is on the throwing team doing shot and discuss.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Nerd in the Country said...

Mary has finished her dissertation. I didn't know that she wasn't done when it came time to copy the text over to the blog.

The pictures are being processed now. They should be back Monday or Tuesday.

I have been looking at a nice digital SLR (camera) at Wal-Mart. I hope to get it at the end of the month. That way, I'll be able to post pictures in a timely fashion.

4:59 PM  
Blogger hisdearheart said...

Well, you tell Mary that it doesn't ever get old to see "our" kids achieve something others' kids do with ease. Never! I still tear up whenever my son mentions that he's gotten used to working alone because it's easier than dealing with the abuse of working in a group. It still breaks my heart, every time, and he doesn't seem to be bothered by it anymore.

11:54 PM  

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