Show Me The Give - The Special Olympics
Since 1968, providing sports opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities has been the greatest outcome of the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a movement that has become a worldwide staple for people of all abilities to unite, participate, and celebrate sports and achievement. The story of this movement began with backyard summer camps and has grown into organized games around the globe.
Working with Allstate Insurance Company, I was fortunate to join the Giving Team that participated in our local Special Olympics activities. As an athlete I was excited to participate. Truthfully at that stage in my life I had limited experiences and interactions with people with intellectual disabilities. I didn't know what to expect, so I brought my love for people and sports to the field that day in 1997 and embraced what was next. The day's sports activities was Track & Field. It was a big day for the athletes with medals, fans, music, vendors, and celebrations. I volunteered to be a cheerleader for the track races. Volunteers who were cheerleaders were assigned an athlete at each race to specifically cheer for. The idea was that each athlete could hear someone cheering for them as they went by. I loved how well planned the activities and volunteer support was for the athletes. I recall two races that stood out.
The Serious Competitors
The race was a 50 meters sprint. There were several categories because they were broken down by age division. In this particular race the ages of the racers were adults. My person to cheer on was Luke. Luke had all the makings of an elite athlete. It was in his eyes. He was focused and serious. I thought, now this should be good. As the gun went off two sprinters were leading the pack - Luke was one of them. I cheered him on incessantly as they went by. I was so excited for Luke! Then at the finish line Luke was edged out by a lean. First of all, talk about a pro move to win a race! I was thoroughly impressed. Second however Luke was mad. He didn't want to lose. I went over to him to congratulate him on his race and just be an ear. What struck me was that Luke was a competitor just like me. He wanted to win and didn't like accepting defeat. Although Luke lost that race, I hope his example of pure competitiveness continues to live on. Intellectual disability does not mean lesser competitor or lesser person. Luke was "the man", he didn't let that stop him, and he went on to win other races that day!
This Changed My Life
The younger age division saw younger athletes come to the starting blocks. My athlete to cheer for was David. He had great position on the line drawing lane 4. I saw his support system at the line with him and it appeared to be that he was reassuring them of something. As the starter gun went off, I realized the reason for the pow wow. David had significant physical disabilities. The sprinters in his race were at least 10X faster than him. When it was all said and done every sprinter had crossed the finish line and David was barely halfway through the race. I continued to cheer him on hard and it was this very moment that changed my life. As David passed me by, he looked at me and said,
"I'm doing it all by myself"
I found out later that he elected to run the race unassisted even though he could have had help. That pow wow was the "are you sure David" conversation that his family and support circle had. I am literally tearing up writing this piece because I saw something so special in that race. David was joy personified. I've never seen anyone more happy than David. It took him 5 minutes to complete the race. He had a smile as big as the state of Texas the entire time. The entire crowd took note and he literally had the stadiums attention. We went on to the finish line and the celebration began. David, on that day beat his disability and his own doubt to accomplish something special - he competed in and completed his race unassisted. David taught me what it meant to be victorious. David taught me that your own victories are the ones that count in life. I will never forget David for his courage and persistence to achieve his goals. I know I was there for David, but his spirit and example have continued to stay with me. That to me is the "special" in Special Olympics. No where else can people unite and create profound impacts on each other at the same event.
Since 1997, I have watched the organization continue to grow to make an impact in health care, education inclusion, leadership, and beyond. What seemed like a state event to me (part of a larger organization I was just discovering), was actually the makings of a worldwide effort of inclusion and uniting abilities.
Sports United Our Abilities and Opened Our Eyes to the Possibilities
I've competed in many sports competitions, and some of my most valuable lessons have come when I volunteer with the Special Olympics. I cannot tell you how you'll be changed, but you will not be the same. The athletes, their families, and the organizations that put on the great events need all of our support. Time, talent, and/or treasure, that's my challenge to you. Giving to the Special Olympics through the years has been the best decision of my life. I hope you will consider joining me and The Thibeaux Company this year and beyond. More information about the Special Olympics:
Get Involved: https://www.specialolympics.org/get-involved