Express Yourself

Some of my favorite memories in sport are the silent and solitary ones. Growing up hitting a tennis ball against the garage door, driving worn out golf balls into the woods behind our house, dribbling a basketball around the paved driveway of the church across the street. All of those moments were uncomplicated, inexpensive, and so very good for my mind and soul. Those times allowed me to be present to I was thinking and feeling. I was alone with sport and free to express myself.

I have given thought about those times more than usual since the pandemic began, because I have been intentional about following the Facebook posts of our Special Olympics athletes. They have given me a whole new appreciation not only for their commitment to participating in sport from their homes, but for their amazing ability to express themselves through their commitment to art.

Much has been written about the relationship of sport and art. Both disciplines cross borders, generations, and cultures. They speak of similar things: practice, endurance, emotion, focus, and dedication. They teach us more about ourselves and–in wonderful ways–connect us to others.

I am delighted to share with you just a few of our Special Olympics New Mexico athletes who are also artists. May you unite with them as you enjoy the ways they have chosen to express themselves. As they often do, they may just inspire you to do the same.

Athletes included in the photos:

Christian Baird – SO Sandia Prep

James Santillanes – SO Albuquerque Dukes

Ashli Lisenbee – SO San Juan County

Sarah Wilson – SO AGS

Abe Assaad – SO Sandia Prep

Steve Romero – SO Taos

Note: Christian, Sarah, James, and Steve are “starving artists” and happy to sell their art. For more information, please call or email SONM at sonm@sonm.org

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A Good Day

Monday, March 8th is International Women’s Day. The day was created in the early 1900’s as a way to promote women’s rights and celebrate women who have made the world a more equal and balanced place. As I have paused to give thought to women who have achieved so much and inspired so many in bringing about equality, I have found great benefit in learning not only about what they have done, but about their qualities and character while doing it. Almost all have demonstrated great perseverance.

I am reminded today about one woman’s story that has helped me to see the power of persevering through challenges. Great or small, challenges can define us, and how we respond to challenges can be an inspiration to others. Think about women in your life who exhibit perseverance and have overcome challenges. As you think about influential women in your life, give thought to one thing you can do on this International Women’s Day to honor them by lifting up and encouraging a younger woman in your life who may need a standing ovation of her own.

A SPECIAL OLYMPICS STORY

On this Friday afternoon
In a quiet corner of the Middle School gym
After two years and about 1,200 attempts
And thousands of “you can do it” from her teammates
And the willingness to endure efforts that were nowhere close
And the times that the basketball smashed off the bottom of the rim
And came crashing back to knock her glasses off
Only to have her pick them up, smile, and reassure everyone with a softly spoken
“I’m fine” and stand there once more, ball in hand, ready to try again…

And after listening to all the expert advice taken in eagerly…she finally got the ball in the basket!

No, you won’t see it on ESPN Sports tonight
And it won’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated next week
But when it happened in that gym–everyone stopped to give her a standing ovation…probably her only one in 40 years.
And she smiled proudly.
The beauty of that simple, ordinary moment reached down and lifted the dreams of everyone there.
And when the applause died down, as it always does,
And everyone went back to their own involved world, as they always do,
She did a most simple extraordinary thing.

She picked up the ball
And began shooting again.

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“I Do Miss My Life”

The other day one of our athletes shared a “1 year ago – See Your Memories” post on Facebook that said: “Hockey practice today did feel amazing. It is awesome to be with my team again.” That was posted in January 2020, and under the memory post he wrote “I do miss my life. I do.”

The longer we’ve been apart from our Special Olympics athletes and friends, I have been feeling like I do miss my life, too. Special Olympics has given me really good friends, a much fuller and more meaningful life, and a greater love not just for some people, but for all people.

My thoughts today are driven by how much I miss in-person connection at Special Olympics, and how I look forward to when SONM can return to play in the future. There are days I miss being with our athletes at our Games so much I could just scream. There are days that I do scream. On the days that I feel I just can’t cope with not being together one minute longer, rather than try to bury my emotions, I find myself doing one of two things. I pull out photos of past Special Olympics competitions and take time to not just look at them, but STUDY them. I start to notice things in those photos I may never have noticed before, and it doesn’t take long for my heart to feel good again. If I’m not looking at photos, I make time to text an athlete, direct message an athlete on Facebook, or better yet, I call an athlete. Their voice alone does the trick and within a matter of minutes I am laughing, and I am thankful.

Remembering the joy at Special Olympics Games pre-covid helps put my mind at ease, and gives me hope for in-person return to play at SONM in the future. As you look at the slideshow photos from past SONM competitions, I hope they bring you joy and hope.

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‘Tis the Season

Yesterday, I went to get my mail and started thumbing through the pile–the bills, the grocery store promos, and the junk mail–and there it was, a handwritten envelope with my name on it. My first Christmas card of the year. I have to tell you, as I read the printed message on the card along with the few sentences my dear friend had written, each word seemingly went straight to my heart. We may be living in a digital world, but with everything that we have been through in 2020, my thoughts today are this: Perhaps more than ever, sending and receiving handwritten Christmas cards may bring a special sense of connection that we might need this year.

I did some research. Christmas cards began in England in 1843, when Sir Henry Cole set up the first post office.  As a way to attract the general public, he and an artist friend designed a Christmas card and sold them for one shilling (about eight cents).  A few years later, Christmas cards started to appear in the United States. Most had pictures of the Nativity on them.  At first, the cards were pricey, but in the spirit of American entrepreneurism, in 1915 three brothers with the last name of Hallmark got together and the rest is history.

Christmas cards have always been important to my family.  I have memories of sitting with my mother every year–a basket of cards on her lap–and going through each card together as she read what was written and shared stories of the sender.  My aunt always displayed her Christmas cards on the fireplace mantle, and when she ran out of room she taped them around the doorways, pointing out the cards that meant the most to her. Again, there were stories of the sender. Even today, I have a shoebox of Christmas cards that family and friends have sent to me over the years. Admittedly, I haven’t done the best job carrying on that family tradition as I always seem to be running out of time. Most often, when I do send cards, I rarely make the time to write a personal message.

I’ve decided that this year will be different. I hope that those who receive a card from me will not only be reminded of how much I love and care about them, but that they will also be reminded of the love God intends for each one of us–the true meaning of Christmas.

In closing, though you may not receive a card from me, I want to wish every Special Olympics New Mexico athlete, coach, family member, volunteer, and community partner a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy Hanukkah. May your hearts be filled with hope for the next time we can safely be together.

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Thankful Then, Thankful Now

Sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of our history. Since we are nearing Thanksgiving, I have been thinking back to what I was taught in elementary school about the 1600’s, when the very first Thanksgiving dinner took place.

The Mayflower sailed from England on September 6, 1620, carrying 102 passengers and 30 crew members. This group of people endured the 2 month, unknown journey across the ocean, landing in and eventually founding Plymouth Colony. The group strived to survive diseases and a tough winter, and survivors attended the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621. Joining the pilgrims for the historic first Thanksgiving meal were nearly 90 members of the Wampanoag Tribe, who were at the end of their harvest season and in the area visiting other tribes. It wasn’t until two hundred years later that President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as our national Thanksgiving holiday.

My thoughts today are focused on similarities from back then that are relatable now, and perhaps worth considering. In 1863, President Lincoln named Thanksgiving as a holiday in an attempt to heal a divided nation, where families (father against son and brother against brother) found themselves fighting against each other during the Civil War.

With that in mind, during this holiday season and beyond, I hope we don’t allow conflict and disagreements to divide our families and friends. Despite our collective differences, I hope we instead focus on similarities that make us “family” in the first place. It is my hope that this season, as challenging as 2020 has been for each of us, we focus on gratitude for what we have and often take for granted. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” That alone may have made the Thanksgiving of then and now, better.

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