Last Saturday, 163 Special Olympics athletes met at the Albuquerque Convention Center to compete in the Mayor’s Invitational Indoor Track Meet. The Mondo Track is one of the best indoor tracks in the entire country, and for the second year in a row, Special Olympics athletes were given the opportunity to run on it. It was a wonderful day for everyone.
Reed Gallinger is a Special Olympics athlete, who competed in the running long jump, the 300 meter dash, and the 400 meter dash. Reed is a very good athlete, extremely humble, and gives his best to whatever sport he plays. Because of that, it’s always a pleasure to watch him compete.
Volunteering at the Indoor Meet were 30 University of New Mexico football players. They came wearing their red jerseys and although a little timid in the beginning, it didn’t take these gentle giants long to warm up to what this day was all about. They were respectful, encouraging, and most importantly, they were engaged.
That night, there was a Lobo Men’s Basketball game, and it just so happened that Reed had been selected to be honored as Special Olympics New Mexico’s French Athlete of the Game. It also just so happened that he was escorted onto the court by two of the Lobo football players, who had volunteered at the Track Meet earlier in the day. On a normal French Athlete of the Game night, a Special Olympics athlete and two Lobo athletes walk together to the middle of the court. Over the years Lobo fans have become increasingly aware and show their support by celebrating our athletes with their applause. Because of what had taken place earlier – this night would be different. The two football players marched Reed from center court to Section 26 – the UNM student section. Needless to say – applause turned into high volume cheers – and with two new friends at his side, Reed was given a night to remember.
The point is this. At the Track Meet earlier that day, Reed was in his element – his disability immaterial. He competed in sport and gained the respect and friendship of those intercollegiate athletes who chose to move from “passers-by” to “active participants.” Passers by would not have taken him to the student section to be celebrated – active participants have more fun.