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My Thoughts today are about the “man in the middle.” He was my first hire 25 years ago. His title – Director of Sports and Competition. He was hired to strengthen a chain that had a lot of missing links at the time. He came to Special Olympics New Mexico with a very clear idea of what a strong sports program should look like, and since his first day on the job, his ideals and philosophies about sports training and competition have not wavered. The thing that stood out back then was his ability to “dream out loud” about the way things ought to be, which made those of us around him every day count on him for those ideas – no matter how lofty. It didn’t take long to realize he was the right man for the job. Twenty five years later – he’s still the right man for the job.

On behalf of everyone who has worn the Special Olympics New Mexico brand over the past twenty-five years – thank you, Chris Page. Your love for our athletes, your love of the game, and your ability to continue to dream out loud inspires all of us to keep working hard for the Special Olympics New Mexico of tomorrow.

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Friendfluence

The other day I was reading an article about a book written by Carlin Flora called Friendfluence. The article went on to say that the majority of research done on friendship focuses on children and adolescents and that rarely is research conducted to address lifetime friendships.

The article left me thinking about many of my lifetime friendships that were formed because of my involvement in Special Olympics. Friendship is woven into the mission of Special Olympics, and in everything we do. The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. This gives them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

In the book Friendfluence, Flora goes in-depth discussing what friendships can do. They can influence our direction, inspire us to reach goals, help us define our priorities, and especially true in Special Olympics – friends help us find and connect with more friends. It is with that thought in mind I encourage each of you to reach out to more people with intellectual disabilities, who may very well be friendless. Form friendships. If we’re lucky and they’re lucky – friendships can equal friends forever.

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25%

Last week I had the privilege of attending Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago. At every meeting, every reception, every event, we were reminded of Special Olympics beginnings and where the Special Olympics movement and athletes are today.

Special Olympics is not simply a nonprofit organization, but a movement that has transformed millions and millions of lives throughout the world. That is a staggering thought considering it started in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s backyard with a small group of family and friends. Note to self: never underestimate what a group of family and friends can make possible if everyone’s hearts and minds are determined to make a difference.

At the 50th Anniversary Celebration, Special Olympics launched a 5 year campaign called The Inclusion Revolution. The goal of The Inclusion Revolution is to end discrimination of people with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) and instead usher in inclusion, acceptance, and unity for all. The revolution is inclusion. At one of the 50th Anniversary meetings we learned that studies show it takes 25% of a population to affect social change. The Inclusion Revolution, championed by today’s Special Olympics athletes and students in our Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program, will make way for an entirely different celebration 50 years from now. 50 years from today, people with intellectual disabilities won’t be experiencing the stares, bullying, and exclusion that they endure today. Inviting, valuing, and including people with intellectual disabilities will simply be the norm.

Our goal is set: 25% of New Mexicans (or more) in the next 5 years leading the way for inclusion. We can do this.

In the words of our Los Alamos athlete Gabe Rau: The best people are being cool to us. I have to say thanks to them for being cool to us. I love them to be cool. We are the champions!

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In the way

About a month ago I hosted a lunch for a group of men and women, as thanks for their prayer for our organization last year as we faced financial challenges and difficult decisions.  When we finished eating our lunch, I asked each of them to share whatever was on their mind.  One of the guys said this: “God wants us to be mighty in spirit, but for most of us, unlike Special Olympics athletes, our head gets in the way of our heart.”  I have contemplated those words many times over the last month and here are my thoughts.

In today’s world people hear the term ‘the sky is the limit.’ Life can seem all about what limits we can push, what we can seek out and achieve.  People strive to stay in control, of their jobs and of their lives.  People set goals, seek to achieve them, constantly seeking success. People continually ask themselves, “what’s next?”  At times, we all become too involved and caught up in long-term goals and success, and forget to enjoy the moment.  I wonder how that’s really working for all of us?

On the flip side – whenever I spend time with our athletes – I see something different.  Our athletes are joyful and fully in the moment.  They are truly happy to be with others, and thankful for the opportunity to simply be included and participate in a given activity at a given time.  The majority of our athletes have very little control over anything, yet they possess a mighty spirit – an inviting spirit that allows them to lead with their heart.  You can’t help but see it in them, and you can’t help but find it refreshing.

Our heads can get in the way of our hearts, so we can all learn a thing or two from our athletes. Be in the moment. Find joy. Find heart.

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State Summer Games

 

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There’s always a lot to take in at our State Summer Games, but much of it doesn’t really sink in until weeks after the Games are over.  This year my lingering Thoughts have been largely wrapped around the Opening Ceremonies.  They felt different to me this year, and after listening to many who were there – they felt different to a lot of people.  Putting a finger on that difference took awhile, but a Board member nailed it when he said it was the CONTENT that made this year’s Opening Ceremonies different.

Our Opening Ceremonies is much the same year after year, but this year there were two messages that affected all of us in a deeper and more thoughtful way.  These messages continue to replay in my mind.  1) Rebecca Latham, Cabinet Secretary of New Mexico Tourism, announced that the $300,000 contract with the Department of Health we lost in 2017 would be re-instated in July of 2018 under Tourism’s NEW MEXICO TRUE.  What a celebration her announcement was and what an impact it will have on our organization in the coming year.  We are unbelievably grateful.  2)  Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics.  As I shared Mrs. Shriver’s powerful words of long ago, all I could think about was the millions and millions of lives that have been significantly changed through the meaningful relationships formed because of the Special Olympics movement.  Mrs. Shriver’s vision has touched the entire world, with the Special Olympics movement growing from 1000 athletes in 1968 to over 5 MILLION athletes from around the world today.

As we honored two of our own Special Olympics athletes that night for competing in the very first Special Olympics New Mexico Games, my heart broke for what people with intellectual disabilities endured back then.  At the same time, my heart was full as I looked at the joy in these two athlete’s faces and then out into the stadium bleachers at the faces of our athletes of today.

We celebrated the past and present at our 2018 Opening Ceremonies and should you be reading these Thoughts now, it is my hope that you feel compelled to join us in some way in making sure a world of true acceptance, inclusion and belonging is what Special Olympics will celebrate throughout the next 50 years!

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Celebrating the 50th

This year the Special Olympics New Mexico State Summer Games theme is “Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Special Olympics.”  It’s hard to believe that fifty years ago Eunice Kennedy Shriver ushered 1,000 Special Olympics athletes into Soldier Field in Chicago to compete in the first Special Olympics International Games. Athletes were represented from three countries, and the competition changed the lives of people with intellectual disabilities forever.  In fact, that day has been described as the day that “released an entire population from a prison of ignorance and misunderstanding.”  It’s hard to believe that today, over FIVE MILLION Special Olympics athletes from more than 180 countries are training, competing, and continuing to serve as champions of change.

Like all anniversaries, this anniversary invites us to leave our daily routine and re-live and reflect on the foundational year of 1968. This year deserves celebration because it changed the way we think and the way we act… forever.  Even Mayor Richard Daley who in 1968 stood by Mrs. Shriver’s side at those first Games was quoted as saying “You know, Eunice, the world will never be the same after this.”  He was right.  I think the very heart of this entire 50th Anniversary can be captured in that thought.

Just like the Special Olympics Games in Chicago, our Special Olympics State Summer Games in Albuquerque will be a celebration of every person’s life that has been changed through a Special Olympics experience.  As we link our past to the present, I pray hearts will be full as we play together, laugh together, celebrate together and live together.  TOGETHER is why we are celebrating.  TOGETHER remains our goal for the next fifty years.

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A Story

This morning I had the opportunity to speak at a Civitan Club meeting.  Civitan International is a volunteer service club who in the 1950’s adopted a special emphasis on helping people with intellectual disabilities.  Today they have an International Research Center on the University of Alabama campus, where research is being done on autism, epilepsy, brain tumors and more.  Civitan Clubs in Albuquerque set up games and crafts for our Special Olympics athletes to enjoy at our State Summer Games Olympic Village.

Anyhow, Dave, the President of the Club started the meeting this morning with a story, which I have chosen to share with you.

Dave was driving through his neighborhood one night last week, when suddenly the car in front of him came to a sudden halt.  It was dark and Dave said he was immediately skeptical, until he saw a woman get out of the driver’s side and hurry to the front of her car.  He then noticed two small girls who jumped out of the back seat and bee lined it to the front, as well.

Dave said his immediate response was to join them, and when he reached the three, he saw a flattened rabbit on the pavement.  He said when he saw the look on the little girls faces, he immediately ran back to his car, grabbed a grocery bag out of the back seat, and told the girls as he was putting the rabbit into the bag, he would take it to the animal hospital, where the hospital would make the rabbit as good as new.

Well, he admitted to all of us that he in fact did not end up taking the rabbit anywhere, but waited until the car was out of sight and then promptly disposed of it.  Here are my thoughts: Dave responded to strangers with kindness because of the attitude of his heart.  He saw the situation, and rather than avoid it, he did the best he could under the circumstances.  By doing so, even though he couldn’t change everything, he sent two little girls and their mom home feeling a whole lot better.

 

As I have thought about that story, it reminds me that it is the attitude of our heart that guides each of us to do what is right.  It is the attitude of our heart that can make our stories good stories or not so good stories.  What choices will you make today and what will your story be?

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