A couple weekends ago at one of our Special Olympics bowling competitions I was talking with a volunteer who had never seen our athletes bowl before. I asked him what he thought and his answer was immediate – “Boy, they are really in their element here.” I didn’t have to wonder what he meant.
To fully appreciate being in your element, you have to consider what it’s like when you are not. My first prom was a great personal example. My mom took me to a salon to have my hair done. I left looking like someone else. I had to buy high heels – which required a balancing act just to walk. This was not normal for me. And – I had to find a long dress – one that went all the way to my ankles. By the time my date and I got to the dance, I had already figured out that the chances of moving my entire body to a fast paced beat without my hair falling, my ankles breaking, and my legs getting tangled was probably slim to none. As we walked into the prom – I remember feeling like a duck out of water. I felt uncomfortable and didn’t really want to be there.
On the flip side – being in one’s “element” can be one of the best things, ever. Doing something you like to do in an environment that suits you can lead to all kinds of possibilities. Just like anyone else, when our Special Olympics athletes are in that situation – they are wildly happy and actually captivating in their own unique way. Considering the way most of them go through life – teased, not included, and over-all undervalued – how great is it that Special Olympics exists.
The other day I was asked this question – “If Special Olympics New Mexico were to go through an audit to determine its greatest value, what would you say that would be?” If you are reading this, take a moment and answer that question for yourself.
I believe our greatest value at every level of our organization and in every community we are in – is our RELATIONSHIPS.
We are an organization of mutually beneficial relationships built on the very core of how our athletes go through life – treating other people like we all hope to be treated.
When I think of my own list of valued relationships, I think of our Special Olympics athletes and their family members, who have opened my eyes and heart to see and feel more; our staff, Board of Directors and Area Directors who whole-heartedly commit to our vision and mission; the long list of coaches and chaperones who tirelessly give of time they don’t really have to make our athletes better and keep them safe; the people who represent the businesses and civic organizations who value what our athletes bring to society; the volunteers who show up to help ensure a quality Games or fundraising event; the teachers and school administrators along with the regular education students who make school a place of acceptance and friendship; the health professionals who screen our athletes to make sure they are able to participate in the best health possible; the law enforcement officers and their families who support our athletes by raising money and awareness for Special Olympics through the Torch Run; the donors whose hearts are moved to give because they know they can help make a difference; the intercollegiate and high school coaches, athletes, and officials who stand with us in the power of sport that changes lives; and lastly, the government officials who fight for the rights of those with intellectual disabilities because they know it’s the right thing to do.
This isn’t just an arbitrary list of groups who work with Special Olympics in some capacity. Each category brings to mind some of the nicest and best people I’ve ever known. Relationships like these make hard days easier, good days even better, and every day life more meaningful.
Decades ago two individuals envisioned a better life for people with intellectual disabilities- Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Richard LaMunyon. This Saturday the world will celebrate EKS Day – a day dedicated to Mrs. Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics movement. A week ago law enforcement officers and Special Olympics representatives celebrated Retired Police Chief Richard LaMunyon, founder of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.
Mrs. Shriver saw first hand the terrible treatment of people with intellectual disabilities. She saw the struggles of her own sister and witnessed the indescribable human suffering of those hidden away in institutions across our country and around the world. Eunice moved from anger to the creation of Camp Shriver – where in her own back yard boys and girls with intellectual disabilities were invited to come, play games, and have fun. Fast forward to today – over 4.7 million people with intellectual disabilities from 169 countries are training and competing in Special Olympics sports.
In 1981, Richard LaMunyon, Chief of Police in Wichita, Kansas, volunteered for the local Special Olympics Games. He saw a great need being served with very little resources. He also saw what Special Olympics not only brought to the athletes but to the volunteers and organizers who were at the Games. The Chief took five of his officers and by running the Olympic Torch, they committed to raising money and awareness for Special Olympics. Fast forward to today – this past year 97,000 law enforcement officers from around the world raised $55,354,258 for Special Olympics.
Here are my thoughts. Both Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Chief Richard LaMunyon not only had opinions about the darkness going on in the world around them – they had an idea they believed would bring light. They didn’t just talk about what they felt needed to change – it was what they DID that changed the lives of millions of people then and now.
It feels like today a lot of us are just talking, when maybe, just one idea followed by an action could bring light to the darkness.
If you are involved in Special Olympics or have been for any length of time, my guess is you probably have a t-shirt that proves it. In fact, I would bet that most of us in Special Olympics New Mexico have stacks of Games and Event t-shirts that we have collected over the years. This past weekend our Four Corners Invitational shirt was a hit, and I believe this is why.
There is an entire psychology on what our clothes say about us. It relates to establishing and maintaining a sense of who we are, where we fit in, and where we belong.
Over 1800 people left our Four Corner’s Invitational sporting a t-shirt that sent this message to those around them – “I am Special Olympics – I am New Mexico – and I am proud of it.”
One of Special Olympics New Mexico’s areas of focus is building inclusive communities – implementing strategies and creating opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities and those without to interact. The hope is through those experiences, barriers of misunderstanding and stereotypes will be shattered and friendships will be formed.
The weekend of August 19th, Special Olympics New Mexico will host its Four Corners Invitational in Farmington. Much of this competition is “unified” – people with and without intellectual disabilities will compete together in golf, aquatics relays, and softball. Although we will be PLAYING unified – we will also be LIVING unified that weekend, which means we will be eating together, staying in hotels together, travelling together, dancing together, and just hanging out together.
We want to show people what playing and living unified looks like, so, anyone who will be at these Games, we invite you to take UNIFIED SELFIES and post them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Use the hashtag #FCIunifiedselfie and we will then select and repost many of these photos in the next issue of our SOBrief.
We can’t wait to see your unified selfies!
I have been invited to speak to a group of nonprofit leaders about “staying in it for the long haul.” I guess after you do something for 24 years, people are curious about why you have and how you have. I’ve given thought to my tenure with Special Olympics New Mexico and the reasons for my staying in the Movement, and a large part of why and how has to do with my being inspired – day after day, year after year.
The definition of “inspire” that resonates with me the most is “to breathe into.” That is exactly what happened at my first Special Olympics competition and every Special Olympics event since. As I watch people with intellectual disabilities compete – they breathe into me something sacred. A revelation so great that it requires my response.
Each time I watch a Special Olympics athlete – each time I am with them – I am able to say “Because of you – I …” The end of that sentence will change, but I can share a few examples that have remained constant.
TO THE ATHLETES OF SPECIAL OLYMPICS –
Because of you I work harder at things that don’t come easy for me.
Because of you I have faith in things that don’t seem possible.
Because of you I value honesty, kindness, courage, and acceptance more.
Because of you I don’t have as many wants and am more thankful for what I have.
Because of you I go slower.
Because of you my heart is happier.
Because of you my work matters.
Because of you I pray more.
Because of you I love deeper.
Because of you my life is better.
Thank you for always inspiring me – it’s because of you I am inspired to be a better me.
Yesterday morning, Mike Silva owner of Rude Boy Cookies and Special Olympics athlete Tim Harris, went on the 2 KASA Morning Show to promote the Rude Boy Cookies for a Cause Campaign. You wouldn’t think a morning TV show would serve the purpose of providing its listeners with meaningful thoughts worthy of personal consideration. You may not have expected those thoughts to come from the owner of a cookie shop and a man born with Down Syndrome, but it’s a perfect example of life providing small treasures in unexpected places.
I invite you to listen to this interview.
If you were able to listen, you heard the interviewer ask Mike why supporting local nonprofits was important? His answer was – “I am a local kid. I grew up here. If I can’t make a change in my own community – what’s the point?”
As she proceeded to interview Tim, he shared the many Special Olympics sports he competes in. The interviewer asked him how he did that – how he trained for so many? His response was “I train a lot – I take the time to.”
The meaningful thought that both of these guys left me with is whether we are wanting to do something to better the community we live in or do something to better ourselves, we have to be intentional about doing it. Talking about what things we should do or could do doesn’t actually “do” anything. So, dear friends, what have you been talking about lately that could in some way better your community or better yourself? Consider this a personal challenge and in the next 30 days be intentional and put your words into action. I would love to hear back from you.