Not long ago I was on a conference call with a group of Special Olympics leaders from across our country. We were talking about the impact of current Special Olympics programs and initiatives that focus on today’s youth. We shared great success stories about our Young Athletes Programs that are developing gross motor skills in pre-school children born with intellectual disabilities. We celebrated the impact of the Special Olympics Youth Activation Committees nationwide – where regular education students are assuming leadership roles within the Special Olympics Movement and succeeding wildly. We discussed strategies that are working to increase inclusive sports programs in our mid and high schools through the Special Olympics Project Unify initiative. We were all very engaged in the conversation, until one man on the call silenced all of us with these words: “We need to make sure we aren’t forgetting about our old guys.”
Those he affectionately referred to as “our old guys” are those Special Olympics athletes (male and female) who were born during or before the mid 1960’s when intellectual disability wasn’t even a word. This population of people were often hidden away, placed in institutions, and given little to no hope for a meaningful life.
I won’t dwell on what their lives were like growing up or the isolation and cruelty most of them had to endure. I can barely wrap my arms around the courage and strength they needed just to get through each day. My thoughts are simply this. Their lives, just like our lives, are meant to be lived to the fullest every day. We should all feel blessed to have been given yet another chance to make a better day for the “old guys” in our lives. They deserve it.