The dictionary defines kindness as ‘the virtue of showing love, often in the face of obstacles.’ We haven’t been able to see many of our Special Olympics athletes in person the past few months, but I know that if they were the ones behind the microphones, writing the articles, in front of the TV cameras, leading the rallies, Special Olympics athletes would be showing us that no matter what- kindness can change EVERYTHING.
Stressed? Kindness can lessen your worries. Hurting? Kindness can heal the wound. Angry or frustrated? Kindness can better the mood. Anxious? Kindness can help you relax. Sad or lonely? Kindness will bring happiness to your heart.
Why do I think Special Olympics athletes can lead the way in showing kindness? They have earned the right. Through the isolation they have lived, they offer friendship. Through the judgments and prejudice placed on them, they teach acceptance. And through the cruelty they have endured, they continue to show kindness.
Through watching, experiencing, and knowing Special Olympics athletes- if we join them in kindness- we can change everything.
The other day I made a thank you call to one of our donors who lives in Santa Fe. Marilyn and I had never spoken to each other before, but now I’m sure we will speak again. Her instructive words made an impression on me.
I started our conversation by thanking her for her continued support of Special Olympics New Mexico and in the same breath, rolled right into asking her how she was doing during these very different times. Her response was “I’m doing fine and Randy, just remember we have to take care of ourselves right now, so we can help take care of others.”
I then shared with her that we have transitioned into offering our athletes Virtual Games to keep them engaged and in motion. I explained what the Games were, how they worked, and how at the end, each athlete who participated would receive a Virtual Games certificate, medal, and t-shirt. Her response to that was “Well, I have always found praise and appreciation for what people accomplish to be very important.”
I also shared with her that even though I hadn’t been able to see our athletes in person, how much it’s meant to be able to talk with them on the phone. Her response to that was “To be seen and to be heard is important to everyone.”
My thoughts today are this: After my conversation with Marilyn I think we can each benefit from asking ourselves the following questions, reflecting, and taking action.
What have I been doing to take care of myself lately, so I can continue to take care of others in my life?”
Who have I, or more importantly, who have I not shown praise and appreciation for lately that may be really happy to receive it?
Who haven’t I visited with or taken time to call and truly listen to in a while?
Before we hung up, Marilyn shared that she was a teacher, and in my opinion, a very good one.
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.
Pictured: Special Olympics New Mexico athlete James Keefner training at home
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.
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:
What has this very different time in your life taught you?
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.
Pictured: Special Olympics athlete Shiv Patel, Special Olympics New Mexico State Summer Games 2018