Last Friday at our Board of Directors meeting, the Board and staff surprised me by celebrating my twenty-five years as the Executive Director of Special Olympics New Mexico. The celebration was humbling, heart-warming, and very thoughtful.
For the past 25 years it truly has been a privilege to serve our athletes and work along side many wonderful people, who have had a profound impact on our organization, and on my life, as well. As an athlete and a coach from years ago, I have shared repeatedly from personal experience that playing the game of your life is great, but over the years you tend to forget the plays, the score, the celebration – however, never do you forget those that you have played with. I have been richly blessed. Thank you Special Olympics New Mexico.
After the meeting, I rummaged through my files and found some things from that first year on the job. My intent today is to share with you my thoughts from all those years ago – a page from one of our first publications. And with it, just for fun – a staff photo for all of you “old-timers.”
Two weekends ago I attended our 2017 State Equestrian Competition in Clovis. This is one of SONM’s sports that unless you see it, you simply can’t grasp how intriguing it is. The indoor arena is spectacular – the tournament director, announcer, and judge all seem strangely “connected” at the hip – and the coaches and horse handlers are not only knowledgeable, but thoroughly present and in the moment for the entire two days. The competition is nothing less than precisely orchestrated and absolutely unpredictable all in the same breath.
As a spectator, you can sit in the stands and watch all of the moving parts – OR, you can do yourself a favor and zero in on the athletes when they ride. Unlike other sports, not only do these athletes have to focus on their skills, but they have to focus on the animal they are riding – who are not only huge in stature, but tend to have a mind of their own. As much as these riders train and rehearse what their coaches have passed on to them, it becomes apparent that in this sport – some things just can’t be taught.
What I have learned to appreciate about the culture of this competition is this. As spectators, we support each and every competitor. We hold our breath, whisper words of encouragement, and cheer with admiration (and sometimes relief) once each athlete completes their ride. As for the Special Olympics athletes – those who bravely climb into those saddles time and time again – they find out who they truly are while riding these magnificent and temperamental animals. They find out that as athletes, they are nothing short of amazing.
This past weekend at our Four Corners Invitational in Farmington, 1,126 Special Olympics athletes, coaches, and unified partners competed in unified golf, unified softball, and aquatics. As usual, as I walked around our Games I was mindful of our Core Values and how they were showing up. These five values guide our decisions, our conduct and behavior, and represent how we go about our work. They aren’t simply a document we created years ago to place on the shelf. They matter. They define us.
The value that kept appearing in front of my face throughout the weekend was Unbelievable Fun, which is reflected by our capacity to “Enjoy the excitement, enthusiasm, spontaneity, and laughter inherent in the Special Olympics experience.”
Maybe because organizationally things have been a little more challenging as of late, or maybe it’s because all of our hearts have been breaking watching those who have fallen victim to Harvey’s wrath. I’m not really sure what it was, but this last weekend Special Olympics New Mexico LAUGHED A LOT, and WE HAD FUN!
It was wonderful.
Want to see more 2017 Four Corners Invitational photos? Click HERE to visit our SONM photo gallery on Flickr.
Special Olympics is about competition. Truth be told – every single one of us is about competition. It propels us into something greater – it forces us into new directions – and it teaches us important lessons. When the spirit of competition is right – might I also add it’s a lot of fun for everyone.
As many of you know Special Olympics New Mexico has been working hard to replace the $310,000 we lost when our State Appropriation was eliminated. Thanks to McKee Wallwork and Company, an exceptional advertising agency in Albuquerque – we have the way to do it. It involves challenging one another – one person at a time – one dollar at a time. The beauty of this challenge is the act of doing it. We are hoping that through Facebook, Twitter, and email challenges involving friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. – we will find 310,000 people who will compete and then challenge others to do the same.
This weekend we will be launching our campaign accompanied by specific details on how you can compete so our athletes can. More details in my next Thoughts from Randy.
A couple weeks ago the University of New Mexico’s men’s basketball team, led by newly hired Coach Paul Weir, hosted a clinic at the Pit for a group of our local Special Olympics athletes. As the Special Olympics athletes took the floor, I was invited by Coach Weir to meet with his players and coaches to give them an idea of what to expect. He wasn’t sure that any of them had ever spent any time with a Special Olympics athlete, and I wasn’t sure he had, so to his credit, Coach was thoughtful enough to ensure everyone was going to have the best experience possible.
We met in the film room. I talked – they listened – and then everyone took the floor. In a matter of minutes, the game of basketball did what the game of basketball always does – it brought everyone together. Athletes with athletes regardless of ability share a common bond when there’s a ball and a hoop.
It was a great clinic and at the end, we gave each Lobo a sharpie to sign our athletes’ Lobo t-shirts they had received that night. A few minutes went by and Coach Weir wandered over to me with a smile on his face. A bit surprised he said “He asked me if I wanted his autograph.” And there it was, on his beautiful Lobo Basketball Nike polo – the signature of one of our Special Olympics athletes.
I love it that our athletes, just like the Lobos, are “stars” in their own minds. I love it that Coach Paul Weir now has his own Special Olympics moment to remember – with a smile and an autograph that will last as long as the shirt does.
Special Olympics New Mexico’s contract with the Department of Health was eliminated a couple months ago, and the absence of that $310,000 has left our organization in a sizable state of need. Being in “need” is not a comfortable place to reside, especially when the need if not filled has the potential to impact so many people who rely on us. I think and pray about our situation and the challenge we face – a lot. My thoughts around what we face are evolving, and this is where they are today.
There is unforeseeable value in having to face tough times. We don’t learn about endurance, perseverance, and true hope if we are never placed in situations that require them.
As we go through the process of reevaluating what we are now able to do and what things we no longer can, we realize the gift of what we had. We are humbled at the thought of having taken those things for granted.
We are experiencing “connection” with people in a different way, as well as the possibilities that come with them. What people are doing and how they want to help is beyond what any of us could have dreamed of on our own. New relationships and old relationships bring to the “need” a greater purpose. It is those relationships that bring a whole new depth of gratitude for people who are on our team.