Thursday, October 2, 2008

Passing the torch

Last Friday I went to an area Gold's Gym while Caden was at his special ed preschool. There were signs everywhere requesting volunteers for the regional Special Olympics competition being held two days later on Sunday. The gym was hosting the weightlifting events and the remaining events were being held at 3 other local venues. I was shocked that this was the first I'd even heard about the S.O. being held in my town. I read the daily newspaper out of Harrisburg regularly as well as two weekly small-town papers. There was NOT ONE mention in any of these papers about these Games. No wonder my gym still needed volunteers. I signed up and even volunteered the Tank as well. Cool beans.

On to spinning class. At the end of class during the stretches, the instructor got the group talking about weekend college football games. As they drained that topic, someone asked "What else is going on this weekend?" I waited and could not believe that the instructor didn't mention that her employer was hosting these games. I blurted out "The Special Olympics will be RIGHT HERE at the gym on Sunday!" Cricket, cricket. Silence. No one even looked at me. Finally from behind me someone mentioned upcoming high school football games and that was that.

Sunday arrived and the Tank and I were ready to go when Caden decided to have one last poopie explosion in his diaper before we hit the door. We were taking Caden with us since my gym offers childcare and he might even want to watch some of the competition. Now we were running late but there is just no rushing our kid. He runs down our front walk only to hit the sidewalk and stop to dance. Then a run over to the car parked behind ours so he can blow kisses to his handsome reflection in the shiny door. As he's finally climbing into the car seat, he notices the velcro on his shoes is pretty cool and bends down to have a few rips at that. AAGGHHH! After getting Caden buckled in, I take a deep breath to revive what little remains of my former Type A personality and tell the Tank to step on it. We go no further than 3 blocks and traffic is stopped. What NOW? I see police cars and people running down the center of the street...what the hay? And then I spot the torch. Held up high over the head of a man with Down syndrome. It's the torch run to kick off the Games. The torch bearer is surrounded by other athletes and volunteers as they run up to the middle school for the opening ceremony. Frank breaks out his camera and chases after them. I bust into tears.

We are walking distance from my house yet I had no idea that this procession would be passing by this morning. Obviously my neighbors were also in the dark as there is NOT ONE person lining the route. Nobody to cheer them on. I can only imagine that one day Caden may be the young man carrying the torch. If so, I can promise you this: there will be press and advance notice about the Games. But for today's competitors, I am angry at the lack of community support and filled with a determination. I jump into the driver's seat, back up and zoom down to the next intersection, ditching the Tank. I hop out as the procession approaches, clapping and yelling like a mad woman. "Way to go! Go get 'em today and have fun! Looking good!" Everyone in the runner's group says thank you and offers a wave, even the guy carrying the torch. In fact he hoisted it even higher with pride. I continue bawling as they run out of sight. Then I remember to drive back and find my stranded husband.

At the gym I am especially pleased at the number of volunteers that arrive. There were even 2 current world record holders in powerlifting helping out. Once the bench press got under way, the Tank and I were no longer needed as volunteers but we stayed to serve as cheerleaders. The only people in this back room were the athletes, their coaches and some family (this event brought teams from many counties away so most athletes had no family present) and the volunteers. I was peeved that out of all the gym members who came to work out that morning, NOT ONE bothered to so much as peek into this room. There was a big welcome table in front of the main door so there was no mistaking that the S.O. were being held there at that moment. Just five minutes of cheering from each of those gym members, or from even half of them, would have taken so little effort yet meant so much to these amazing athletes.

And about these athletes, I can say without a doubt that they are among the best on the planet. Their support and respect for each other, their joy and pride in simply being a part of the day, their sportsmanship and camaraderie was all exemplary. I had a frog in my throat as I struggled to hold back tears. I clapped till my hands hurt, gave out high-fives and even some hugs and had my soul filled to the brink with inspiration and hope. The summer Beijing Olympic games were impressive and Michael Phelps is awesome but this... was... beautiful.

I try to imagine Caden competing in 20 years. I hope that if we as his family cannot attend for whatever reason that there are volunteers or, dare I dream, spectators to encourage and congratulate his efforts. I hope that the local press will not only advertise the Games in advance but then will report on the results afterwards. These competitors deserve nothing less. They trained hard, some traveled far, they did their best and they deserve some type of recognition from the community.

I hope other regions are more keyed in to their S.O. programs. I truly hope that my town is not representative of others but just in case, here is the Special Olympics website where you can find local events and volunteer opportunities for yourself. Use the "find a location" button at the top of the page. And then go support others and enjoy!


Christine said...

Did you write a letter to the editor(s) of your local newspaper(s) to point out their oversight?

Jessica said...

I did not yet. Last year I wrote the local paper and received no reply whatsoever. But I really should keep trying, especially after your recent success!

Sharon said...

What a wonderful day. I'm sure your enthusiasm and support was greatly appreciated by these exemplary athletes.