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.
I sat in the pew half-listening half-thinking about our athlete who had passed away. My heart was feeling sad for all of us who were already missing her. The change in the priest’s voice caused me to look up at him. “When she would come to take the sacrament, she would always be smiling at me. I would place it on her tongue, and then she would smile at me, again. I found myself smiling back.”
With so much sadness in the circumstances of our world today, I have been thinking about the power of a smile and what it can do and mean to the person who sees it. When someone smiles at me, just like that priest – I smile back. It’s true – a smile invites a smile. One smile has the power to change our mood, and moods change our actions.
Power is an interesting word. Webster defines it as “having the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others and/or the course of events.” Think about that for a second and then be intentional about using your power. Smile and smile often. Smile at people you love and smile at perfect strangers. You just may see that you have more power than you ever knew you had, because the reality is – your power doubles when the person who sees your smile – smiles back.
This year’s theme “State Summer Games Where The Force Is With You” was not only wildly popular and fun – it was true.
I would venture to guess that almost everyone attending the Games had enough
knowledge to not only understand but experience the parallel between the Force of Star Wars and the Force of Special Olympics.
The Force is what gives power. It surrounds us and penetrates us and binds us together. When using the Force – one has the power to influence others and even see the future. The Force is used for persuasion, wisdom, and the performance of great physical feats.
The Force resides within and when awakened – can change our hearts and minds. Can I just say – it did.
With the closing of our Games, and the closing of my thoughts today – May The Force Be With You.
Last week twelve Special Olympics New Mexico athletes, partnering with the New Mexico Technology Council and FatPipe ABQ, went through a two-day course learning how to use social media, email, search engines, blogs and the Microsoft Suite, for the purpose of spreading the word about Special Olympics. These twelve, as part of our Athlete Leadership Program, will now serve as “Technology Ambassadors.” The training was far more in-depth than I expected, and as amazed as I was with our athletes and the way they glided through the process, I was equally impressed with those who taught them.
It was very apparent that the course instructors came to the training with high expectations. To quote one of them – “None of us came certain of what the intellectual capabilities of our students would be. Because I personally believe that people in general will rise if expectations are high – I decided to maintain that belief about these athletes. They were amazing and as generic as this may sound, I left the training probably having gotten more out of them than they did me.”
The point is – the instructors taught in a way that was consistent with their expectations, and when they did, our athletes responded accordingly. This was a powerful reminder that we all should be giving thought every day about how we express our expectations of others. Showing doubt and unbelief in someone results in a very different outcome than showing promise and belief in their potential. In Special Olympics we teach and preach “acceptance,” which is exactly what we should be doing. But perhaps along with it, we should notch it up a level and not only simply accept people with intellectual disabilities, but treat them as though they are what they are capable of becoming. They, like all of us, have the potential to be more.
Two weeks ago in partnership with the Holman’s Foundation, Special Olympics New Mexico hosted the first Albuquerque Public Schools Olympians For Autism Track Meet. Seven elementary schools participated in the unified event, which partnered 61 students on the autism spectrum with 61 of their regular education peers. They had been training together since February.
Having no “official duty” at the event, I stayed in the middle of the infield and for three hours – I watched and learned. I learned that the special education teachers who were there were quality people. I watched the participants interact and much of the time couldn’t really tell who was on the autism spectrum and who wasn’t. I witnessed a couple students have melt-downs and how their classmates came to their rescue. As is true in all Special Olympics competitions, I saw personal and emotional moments as medals were awarded to each participant.
Since that day I have read many articles on autism, and would like to share with you a little of one written by a Dad.
“If you have met one person with autism you have met one person with autism. For those on the spectrum like my son who are nonverbal, it is important to remember that love needs no words and finding a way to communicate with someone without using verbal language can be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever experienced. Making friends can be really difficult for someone who is autistic. Making just one friend can make all the difference in the world. Every person in the world wants and needs love and acceptance.”
I think we all would agree that having a friend who accepts us for who we are can make every day a better day. I saw such genuine acceptance in those kids who were at the track that day, I have spent every day since thinking about how with the help of more amazing teachers and visionary administrators, Special Olympics could potentially make those friendships happen in every school district in New Mexico. It’s how real change will happen.
Below is a slideshow with a few pictures from the day, but if you want to take a look at all of the photos that were taken, click HERE.