Sports Talk

When you work with a team of people at a sports organization, people who were and still are athletes, your daily conversation is filled with sports terminology. A couple months ago my staff and I were talking about the impact of Covid on our organization. Victoria, our Director of Health and Wellness, stated that we should consider this a REBUILDING YEAR.

You hear the term “rebuilding year” all the time if you watch intercollegiate and professional sports. Generally, rebuilding years are characterized by change- an influx of young players in key positions, playing opponents who are knowingly more skilled, in order for young players to grow. It’s about implementing strategies and overcoming challenges now for a greater success later.

When I spoke with my staff about the impact of Covid on our organization, we agreed that even though Special Olympics athletes may not be training and competing “as usual,” we needed to create ways to help keep our athletes engaged and training. We needed to challenge them as they sheltered in place with ways to work on their fitness and overall health. We needed to create social media videos to help them develop and maintain their sports skills. We needed to find ways for them to set goals, reach goals, and celebrate their accomplishments.

My thoughts today are: We needed a rebuilding year, and once the Special Olympics New Mexico community can be together again we will be ready. We will be better and stronger because of the challenges we faced. I’m glad we’re rebuilding, and we are all deeply grateful to those who are helping us along the way.

James for SO brief

Pictured: Special Olympics New Mexico athlete James Keefner training at home

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Mid Season

Lately I’ve been reminded of the time years ago when I coached high school volleyball. Never in my life had I played volleyball nor did I know one thing about it. All I knew was that the team needed a coach, and I was being entrusted to lead them to victory. We started out excited, and losing. Each practice I would give the players new drills and do my best to keep all of us focused on the fundamentals. The team worked hard, but we just kept losing.

Time passed and we rolled into mid-season still losing. After each match we would head into the locker room, and the looks on my player’s faces clearly said they were growing tired of the same old story, and truthfully, so was I. It was obvious that what we were doing was not working, so I made the decision to change gears, narrow our scope, and concentrate on one thing: hitting the ball, harder. We practiced hitting the ball harder so many ways it was ridiculous. I set up targets, lowered the nets, varied our approaches, and changed our speed. It didn’t take long until during competition, my players started to get pretty creative on their own. It was fun to watch their growth, it was fun to be a part of the team- and yes, eventually- it was fun to finally win.

If you are asking yourself what this volleyball story has to do with today’s Thoughts, here they are. I am using this blog to applaud my staff for not giving up halfway through the coronavirus pandemic. The Special Olympics athletes have remained our focus, and even though they can’t train and compete as usual, we have been able to offer our athletes fitness challenges, health and wellness programs, Zoom Bingo, and coming soon, our first Special Olympics New Mexico Virtual Games! Additionally, New Mexico Law Enforcement Torch Run just completed a modified state relay run for Special Olympics that gave us so many reasons to celebrate. We have been able to provide our donors and community partners with opportunities for athlete engagement through Zoom calls and videos.

The Special Olympics movement in New Mexico has not given up because those who deeply care about each and every athlete simply will not quit. To my staff, board of directors, sponsors, donors, Area Directors, local coordinators, and coaches who continue to be creative in developing a mid-season effort that engages our athletes so they know they aren’t forgotten: be assured that your efforts will carry all of us into bigger wins when this season ends and beyond.

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Lessons

With everything that has been going on around us, my prayer has been constant: That I, and we, become better people by going through the challenges we are going through. As I have thought about that prayer, I have thought about our Special Olympics athletes and what they have to say and teach us. As I talked with a few of our athletes I was reminded how much they have to offer, and so today my Thoughts are their thoughts.

I asked each athlete two questions:

  1. What has this very different time in your life taught you?
  2. As you have had to stay in your homes, what is it that you miss the most?

Shiv Patel, Special Olympics Rio Rancho: “This time has taught me to value that I am not only healthy but alive. I really do miss playing golf and bocce.”

Shelly Cox, Special Olympics Clovis:  “I learned to do the stuff I should do, to help my Dad. I clean the house and cook for him. I miss my Special Olympics friends I haven’t got to see, but it is important for all of us to be safe.”

James Munoz, Special Olympics Carlsbad: “Don’t take things for granted. Before you know it, they could be gone. I miss doing Special Olympics. If something’s going wrong in my life, it’s my escape. Sports help get your mind off stuff.”

Ashli Lisenbee, Special Olympics Farmington: “I have learned to be aware of who I am with. I miss being able to be with my friends and my mom, who works.”

In closing, I was reminded that the only way I could even call these athletes is because I have a relationship with them. I was reminded that there was a day that I did not even know a person with an intellectual disability. After we hung up, I was reminded my life is better because of them and boy oh boy do I miss being with them.

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Pictured: Special Olympics athlete Shiv Patel, Special Olympics New Mexico State Summer Games 2018

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My Happy Thought

The past few weeks have definitely been different.  One of the differences is that I’ve had the chance to have more conversations than ever with Special Olympics athletes.  Facebook posts, video chats, and phone calls have enabled me to hear from not only our athletes in New Mexico, but athletes from across the country and the world.  The connection I have had with Special Olympics athletes has kept my heart full during days that have otherwise seemed a little empty.

Much has been shared during those conversations, but one statement that continues to bring a smile to my face was hearing one of our athletes say “Special Olympics is my Happy Thought.”  That statement reminds me of the movie Hook, when Peter Pan is able to fly again after he finally finds and hangs onto his Happy Thought.

Special Olympics is the Happy Thought for our athletes for a lot of reasons.  The joy of sports training and competition has moved them from the label of disabled to a label they embody and are proud of: ATHLETE.

For most of our athletes, Special Olympics is a different and welcome opportunity for growth and development compared to how they spend the rest of their time.  It is the place where they find teammates who become close friends, coaches who help them become the best version of themselves, and where they have endless supporters: people who cheer loudly and embrace them.

Special Olympics athletes from around the world practice hard and compete with everything that is in them, and yet, they never get tired of Special Olympics; they are always happy to tell you what it means to them.  Just like Peter Pan, when Special Olympics is the Happy Thought for our athletes and those who support them, we have the ability to not only fly, but soar.

May 2020 Thoughts Photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every single Special Olympics athlete has in their own way, expressed those same words.

 

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Right Here With Us

A few weeks ago I was on a Zoom conference call with 375 Special Olympics leaders from around the world. The purpose of the call was to learn more about the coronavirus and how the Special Olympics movement would immediately be affected by it. The call began with our leader, Timothy Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics Board.

As I prepared myself to hear Tim share decisions that would involve competition cancellations, etc., I was pleasantly surprised to hear the first words out of his mouth were something different.

He asked all of us on the call to join him in prayer and/or meditation. I bowed my head and listened as he thanked God for the gift of breath, body, and voice. He prayed that we would not be focused on the anxiety of the day, but be present to each other and mindful of those who are afraid. Tim asked us to be mindful of this fact: while we are currently distanced from jobs, friends and family, many Special Olympics athletes live socially distanced and feeling alone every day.

He then prayed words of gratitude for the memories of past Special Olympics Games and the people who worked hard to make them joyful for our athletes. He prayed that as we continued to wear Special Olympics on our sleeves, we would also continue to teach, model, and embody every person as a gift.

My thoughts around Tim’s words, his beautiful prayer, is that during a time when everything around us is screaming uncertainty and fear, it is now time to give thought to what we do believe in, and in whom we place our faith. Here are my thoughts and what I have chosen.

I believe that as hard as things may be right now, God wants us all to know that He is right here with us, and if we look, we will find Him. In the middle of the uncertainty, there are blessings. The blessings are often small, but there is something, someone, or some moments that bring a smile to our face, comfort to our heart, and meaning to our life. I am going to write down these blessings, and challenge you to do the same. Write about these big and small blessings that you witness, and be sure to date them so you can reflect back later.

Weeks or months from now, when things do get back to some sense of normalcy, we will be able to go back and reflect on our blessings. We may not have otherwise experienced these blessings when living our typical, more fast-paced lives. As we reflect back, the list and the dates we have written will serve as a reminder that unlike this virus, God, who is also unseen, continues to show His love for us during the good times as well as the bad.

Sky and clouds photo for April 2020 Thoughts

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