There is a quote that says “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” After two years of not having a State Summer Games, choosing the theme “Back to the Future” for this year’s Games seemed quite appropriate. We’ve all experienced the challenge of “mental time travel” as we try to recall the details of what these Games demanded of us pre-Covid. Despite the challenges, there is excitement and hope in putting ourselves back together again!
My thoughts today as we approach our State Summer Games are this: I am thankful for our Special Olympics athletes, who almost never get “stuck” in the past, but have a wonderful way of shifting their enthusiasm towards what lies ahead. They continue to teach us, and I can’t wait to see all of them together again.
Last week I sat through a painful and emotional Zoom call. Over 250 people representing Special Olympics programs around the world watched videos and listened to the personal experiences and pleas from Special Olympics employees, family members, athletes, and others in our movement from Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, and Cameroon. I can’t find words that will do justice to what we saw and learned, but I can share words and thoughts that have stayed with me ever since.
What I learned: There are more than 1 million Ukrainian people with intellectual disabilities. It was reported that to date, over 250,000 of them remain in institutions that have been abandoned.
What I heard: Eva Gazova, National Director, Special Olympics Slovakia shared “None of us were prepared for this, but we have had to react. Ukraine will not give up. Special Olympics is providing athletes who are refugees two hours of sport as often as possible. The gift of these two hours is not only a gift to the athletes, but a gift to their moms, who are broken mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.”
What was instructed: The mother of a son with Autism who fled Ukraine told us “Please, everyone, live every moment of your life.”
No matter how difficult circumstances are for those who have been displaced or for those of us who can barely even imagine what that must be like, it remains true that Special Olympics will always provide moments of hope to those who are in need of it.
With tears in her eyes: a Ukrainian mom shared “Special Olympics is giving my son the chance to know his life will go on.”
With tears in mine: May that mother’s words inspire each of us to do something to help more lives go on in a better, safer, and more meaningful way.
Please note: Special Olympics New Mexico is in the process of learning exactly how we can help and will share that information once we have it.
Yesterday I was rummaging through old files and came across some notes I made from a lecture I heard. Part of the notes said this: “People with intellectual disabilities need opportunities to practice applying their skills, so when they are included in society, they will be well equipped to take on their own lives.” Having spent all last Saturday with our athletes as they competed in the 2022 State Poly Hockey Championships, my thoughts today are this:
Despite two years of isolation for many Special Olympics athletes, each athlete applied skills during the Poly Hockey tournament that many of us could stand to improve on. All day long I watched Special Olympics athletes treat each other and everyone around them as long-lost friends. When they were in the rink hitting the puck–and often hitting each other while flying to the floor or into the side walls–they always checked to make sure no one was hurt before returning to action. They played with great effort, didn’t complain about anything all day, and fully embraced living in the moment. When they weren’t competing, they cheered for those who were. Our athletes had fun–the kind of fun that is contagious. And at the end of the day, as tired as they were, they helped tear down the hockey rink, helped load the rink onto the truck, and before heading out, thanked us repeatedly for hosting the tournament.
Simply through their actions, Special Olympics athletes displayed a wonderful job of using their skills and taking on their lives, leaving the rest of us more thoughtful of how we can do the same.
While talking with the Chairman of our Board of Directors the other day, he shared that he believed not saying too much or too little was a gift. I think most of us wish we had that gift. We so naturally use our words simply to share what’s on our mind rather than give thought to their power before they leave our mouth. Scripture says “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Last week at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Torch Run State Conference in Las Cruces, I was struck with the power of two women’s words.
The first was a response from our Special Olympics athlete Shelby Peterson of Gallup, who serves on the Executive Committee of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Torch Run. During the Executive Committee meeting when asked what Special Olympics meant to her, Shelby’s reply was “When I started in Special Olympics I was shy at first, but then I got to know a lot of people. Special Olympics helped me break out of my shell.”
The second was a response from Law Enforcement Torch Run West Regional Coordinator Judith Goins, also of Gallup, who was selected to receive this year’s “Flame of Hope” award, which is the highest Torch Run award presented in our state. As she was being honored at the Closing Ceremonies banquet, through her tears, Judith shared “Special Olympics has opened a door in my life that I never even knew was there.”
As I think back on the words that Shelby and Judith shared, I am reminded of a few things: Special Olympics offers the opportunity to anyone for a changed life through the places you will go, the purpose you will find, and perhaps most important of all, the people you will meet. All of us who know Shelby and Judith and heard their words during that conference were blessed, as they did a beautiful job of speaking from the abundance of their heart.
“Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.” Some of you may remember those words found in a song of old. As a kid I liked the thought of them, and decades later, I still like the thought of not using or hearing a discouraging word.
When we returned to work after the holidays, I asked my staff and the SONM Board of Directors to think about this sentence and then fill in the blank:
“In 2022, my intention is to bring ____________ to Special Olympics New Mexico.”
The words that were selected matter as much as their meaning. Words have power, and when we use positive words, our thoughts and attitudes can change for the better. If you have spent time with Special Olympics athletes, you will find that the words they often choose have tremendous power: The power to bring smiles to faces, alter a perspective, or even leave you shaking your head in amazement. I love their words and never tire of hearing them.
My thoughts today are this: I challenge you to fill in the blank. What will you bring to Special Olympics New Mexico this year? If we are able to add your word to the ones already selected, Special Olympics New Mexico will remain a place where people love to be in 2022. Everyone is invited.