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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For

This past week I, along with Brittany Scanlon from my development staff and a handful of Special Olympics athletes, had the unique pleasure of attending segments of the University of New Mexico (UNM) Greek Week. Special Olympics New Mexico was chosen as the recipient of the 2020 Greek Week funds raised by the fraternities and sororities throughout the week. Through this partnership, the UNM fraternities and sororities learned about what we do at SONM, learned more about the population we serve, and the students met some of our Special Olympics athletes and cheered them on as they showcased their basketball skills in a quick demonstration. We were told early in the process that the Greek Week goal was to raise $11,000 for SONM and we were very excited about that possibility.

On Saturday morning, in front of over 500 very enthusiastic and very well-dressed Greeks, we were presented a check, not for $11,000- but for $16,000!! The Greeks had surpassed their goal! As I stood on that stage listening to their deafening cheers of celebration- here were my thoughts:

Setting the goal of $11,000 and then surpassing it by $5,000 was truly a testament to their commitment to service. I believe the reason the UNM Greeks surpassed their goal was because of who they were raising the money FOR. The FOR is what made their celebration not only epic, but truly meaningful, and for that, Special Olympics New Mexico will remain grateful FOR them.

Greek Games PhotoIMG_0548

 

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The Guardians of Our Flame

We know what they do. They run our torch throughout New Mexico and carry it into the Opening Ceremonies of our State Summer Games. They proudly award our athletes with ribbons and medals at competitions. They jump off diving boards, put on cornhole tournaments, serve as waiters at restaurants, organize motorcycle competitions, host BBQ cook-offs: all to raise dollars in support of Special Olympics athletes.

We know who they are. They are more than 500 officers representing 81 law enforcement agencies throughout New Mexico. They are our largest public awareness and fundraising program. They are New Mexico True. They are Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics.

What we don’t always know is how the Torch Run impacts the officers who carry our Flame of Hope. Instead of sharing all of my thoughts on the impact of Law Enforcement Torch Run, here are some of their stories and thoughts:

“As individuals with intellectual disabilities are increasingly integrated into society, their vulnerability to be mishandled by the criminal justice system and public safety officers intensifies. The Law Enforcement Torch Run teaches officers that are involved how to differentiate between adults with intellectual disabilities and people who have consumed illegal narcotics, or those with mental illness. Most law enforcement dealings with civilians are negative. Officers see horrible things on a daily basis, things that most people never have to see their entire lives. These things cause depression and can impact the officer’s family life in negative ways. Torch Run provides law enforcement with a positive mental health outlet, as we are involved in something good with and for our community.”  Ben Sanchez, Rio Rancho Police Department.

“In our community the presence of the Law Enforcement Torch Run has helped to build better relationships. People who have never been around law enforcement tell me how much fun they have being a part of our Torch Run events. Law enforcement is not all about bad guys getting arrested for doing bad things. The Torch Run brings people in our community together for a wonderful reason. Our citizens are calling officers by their names and thanking them for what they do. Go Torch Run!”  Judith Goins, McKinley County Sheriff’s Office.

“I have personally found that Torch Run has helped me become a better law enforcement officer and a better human being by simply being in close proximity to our brave Special Olympics athletes.”  Oliver Morris, Los Alamos Police Department.

Special Olympics New Mexico would not be what and who we are today if it were not for the Guardians of our Flame. We pray in gratitude for their continued provision and protection. We thank them forever and ever.

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Our Leader Speaks

Instead of writing my ‘Thoughts’ today, I want to share thoughts from Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. If you have ever heard Tim speak, you have experienced the power of his words. Below, you will see an excerpt from and a link to a piece Tim wrote for The Washington Post, published on Christmas Day, 2019. His words are worth reading.

To heal our divisions, listen to people with intellectual disabilities

“We are a fractured nation. Television, politics, entertainment, business, sports and family tables all show that we are so deeply divided we’re giving up on each other. We no longer believe that the “others” who think or feel differently than we do deserve respect and welcome.

But if we want to stop feeling this way, the athletes of Special Olympics can help us to understand the sources of this kind of division, and to find solutions to it.”

Continue reading here

 

Tim Shriver and Desiree Hanson Cap Hill 2018

Pictured: SONM athlete Desiree Hanson and Tim Shriver at Capitol Hill Day 2018

 

 

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‘Tis the Season

Monday evening I attended a Christmas concert put on by “Expressions of Joy,” a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing the joy of music to adults with developmental disabilities and other special needs.

When the concert started, and with each Christmas song the group performed, the mood of every person in the auditorium began to change. I witnessed pure joy as the musicians and vocalists performed from their hearts, and it didn’t take long before the concert transformed into a spirited sing-a-long. As we continued to sing along with the performers with big smiles on our faces, it turned out to truly be an expression of joy for ALL of us.  We sang Christmas favorites at the top of our lungs, relished the memories they brought, and experienced the Christmas spirit within us come to life.

When I drove home that night I started thinking about how joy shows up more than any other time of the year during the Christmas season. Joy may mean different things to different people, but my thoughts about it having been at that concert last Monday are this:

As I watched, listened, and joined those 20 performers pour their heart and soul into singing those Christmas songs- JOY was seeing God’s purpose for them at that moment and seeing it accomplished. That would be my prayer for each of us this Christmas season, so rightly stated in the book of Romans: “So that I may come to you with JOY, and in your company be refreshed.”

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The Choice

“I pledge to look for the lonely, the isolated, the left out, the challenged, and the bullied.  I pledge to overcome the fear of difference and replace it with the power of inclusion.  I CHOOSE TO INCLUDE.”

This is the pledge Albuquerque’s John Baker Elementary School committed to, which over time has brought the school national recognition. John Baker was named by ESPN as a Special Olympics National Banner Unified Champion School.  They were one of 3 schools in New Mexico to receive this honor in 2019.

To celebrate their achievement, John Baker held a basketball skills exhibition in October to showcase their inclusive school culture, the friendships that have formed, and their love of sport.  A Unified Champion School provides opportunities for students with and without disabilities to team up and play sports together during and after school.  Participating in Unified Champion School activities helps foster collaboration and respect among the students, and the result leads to a school culture where inclusion is the norm.

I attended the banner presentation celebration at John Baker and for lack of describing what it felt like and what it looked like, my thoughts are simply this: it’s how schools are supposed to be. The pictures say it all.

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