Putting the ‘Special’ in Special Olympics

I took my daughter to watch the Colorado Special Olympics Summer Games Saturday because I believe in supporting these courageous athletes and because I believe in eating hot dogs in the sun.

We arrived at Lincoln Park, but all the parking spaces were taken, especially the handicap spots. Inside the stadium, we saw inspiration, hard work and determination — and that was just from the concession workers.

In all honesty, spending just a few minutes in the stands at the Special Olympics will have you becoming enveloped in an endearing aura of love, patience and respect. The Special Olympics is good and just, and it restores your faith in humanity. It’s like the opposite of a White House press conference.

What I love about the Special Olympics is that it’s pure and good. The parents of the runner in last place are cheering the winner on like he was a son of their own. And the parents of the winner are rooting for the last-place finisher as if they had taken money from a second mortgage to the Caesars Palace sportsbook and placed a 40-1 bet on him to finish last, which I’m sure they didn’t because that would be pretty sick.

The stadium is filled with a heartfelt respect and is devoid of malice towards rivals. There is nothing but love in the stands. Contrast that to a Broncos-Raiders game, where fans like me openly pray that the Raiders’ team bus explodes.

Forty-five years after its humble beginnings, Eunice Shriver’s vision of the Special Olympics has become a global feel-good success, tarnished only by the fact that hot dogs at Stocker Stadium cost $5.

“Everyone is a winner” is one of those cliches I detest. Everyone is NOT a winner, and it’s phony to say otherwise. I attended my 6 year-old niece’s soccer game at Canyon View Park last month. They may not keep score, but I do, and her team got killed 11-2. Last place is still last place.

And that’s OK.

Last place in a 5K in better than finishing in first place among people who stayed home and sat on the couch. And finishing last place in a Special Olympics event represents an effort far greater than most of us will realize.

Like the young man in the long distance race.

It was just after noon when he caught our attention. It was a long race. I run on that track regularly and know how each quarter-mile lap in the midday sun can seem like the Bataan Death March. He was clearly giving it his all and we clapped and cheered in admiration. At one point he looked up to the stands. A young man, who in everyday life, likely has people avoiding his gaze, now had every eye on him, and he was rightfully soaking it up.

My daughter and I saw him after crossing the finish line — exhausted but with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. He had enough in the tank to hug a family member and race volunteer. He didn’t come close to winning, yet he accomplished something that day. His life was better after that race. So was ours.

Those of us parents whose children do not have special needs become so smug in our arrogance. We complain about our petty inconveniences, (“She wants me to play with her Barbies again?”) and lose sight of the big picture. God created us all in our own unique way for reason, yet sometimes we think our offspring won the genetic lottery and that somehow we’re lucky for it.

But hearing the authentic happiness in the voices of the parents in the stands, and witnessing the radiance in that young man’s smile, makes me come to a realization about the parents of those athletes. They didn’t wish to have a child with special needs, yet fate and circumstance have wound up giving them a level of patience, peace and unconditional love few of us will ever experience.

Maybe they’re the lucky ones.

Reach Steve at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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