A FEW THOUGHTS ON THIS INTERNATIONAL SPORTS EVENT STARTING JULY 25, WITH THE OPENING CEREMONIES AT THE COLISEUM
“Let me win.
But if I cannot win,
let me be brave in the attempt.”
– the Special Olympics oath
It’s been hard to avoid, as it’s been all over the local news.
Not that anyone in their right mind would want to avoid it, as a sporting event that is just as important as any Super Bowl or World Cup will be in the Los Angeles area starting this Saturday at the Coliseum when a crowd bigger than what the place gets for USC football games much of the time will be welcoming 7,000 athletes from over 170 countries.
Through August 2, those athletes will be performing in 25 different sports in front of crowds whose enthusiasm will rival those at any NBA, NFL, or college football contest.
But this general info was not what I wanted to emphasize, as the Special Olympics has always induced a sense of support in me, and not just for the common reasons such as the athletes getting to do things that, once upon a time, not one would even think of allowing them to do.
You see, I have a cousin with a condition that many of these Special Olympians have, Down’s Syndrome, who is an absolute delight with a sunny disposition and outlook on life that’s so pronounced, one can’t help but feel good after encounters with him.
And it’s been that way throughout his life, as he recently turned thirty.
Has he ever been involved in the Special Olympics? Honestly and sadly, I don’t know; I must remember to ask him and his mother the next time I see them.
My cousin is not the only reason I support these Games and feel a sense of solidarity with the athletes as I have Asperger’s Syndrome, a part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder that at times negatively affects social interaction.
Celebrating on the podium after a soccer event
My particular form of Asperger’s is of the high-functioning kind, meaning that I was and am too high-functioning to be eligible for any Special Olympics program, but as I was subsequently mainstreamed throughout my school career – from first grade on (I was in a special education class in kindergarten) – I suffered socially in those days and into my adult life due to the various inappropriate things I would do or say, that would cause many if not most of my peers to, as best, think of me as a “little strange” and either bully me or shun me.
I reckon there was a time when those 7,000 Special Olympians have felt a similar ostracism and exclusion, which was one reason why Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the program in 1968.
And which is why I feel a sense of pride in them as for the next nine days, they will be treated like absolute celebrities; lionized, celebrated and looked at the same way as guys like Mike Trout are looked at.
To say that the Special Olympics is something wonderful and a golden chance for them to shine would be an understatement.
In fact, I have often regretted that I never seriously considered joining the program as a coach, having been a P.E. teacher and having worked with young people in sports like volleyball, basketball, and especially baseball and softball.
Having the developmental condition that I have, I would fit in perfectly but alas, I simply haven’t found the time to do so over the years.
Perhaps one day.
In the meantime, it should truly go without saying that I wish those 7,000 athletes not only the best of luck, but also all the happiness and fun as I’m sure there will be the widest smiles on every one of those faces.
More than anything else, these Special Olympics are the epitome of what sports should be all about, and I am quite grateful that those athletes are there to remind all of us of that.
And I hope to be able to get out to an event!
The Coliseum, site of Saturday’s Opening Ceremonies