Last weekend was the Special Olympics State track meet. After it was over, I thought of it more as a gathering of angels, rather than a track event. Allow me to explain. The meet invites hundreds of athletes from all over the state to compete in a three day event. It only works because there are tireless volunteers that pull off their jobs seemingly effortlessly. Some of the athletes are more able bodied than others. Some compete on their own, some like Boo, need an assistant in the lane with him. This is where I come in, usually armed with a bag of gummy bears. (Boo will do just about anything for a handful of gummy bears, or a juice box from Starbucks.) Anyway, Boo competed in the 25 meter walk, the 50 meter walk and in the 400 meter walk. Before each race, athletes check into a staging area where they sit with the athletes who will compete in their heat. This tends to make Boo and some of the other athletes a bit nervous, but others handle it just fine. It was obvious that two of the athletes in our event, older men, were great friends. This was there favorite event and they were there, not just to race, but also just to have a good time. Clearly, they were delighted to see each other. Their easy going nature helped put Boo more at ease. Soon, a smiling volunteer came and herded us together and across the field for the start of the 50 meter walk. An athlete behind me seemed worried and asked where he should go. I told him to come with me and he happily took my hand and trotted to the starting line. Because many of the athletes have noise sensitivities, the starter uses a whistle instead of a starter’s pistol. All of the athletes look relieved about this. Soon, we were put in our proper lanes and sent on our way. The two gentlemen I mentioned earlier finished in a one, two photo finish and immediately hugged each other. Boo came in fourth place, seemingly a little surprised at all the applause that he garnered along the way. The athletes were given water and guided to the winners podium. The first and second place finishers stood on the podium beaming. The third place finisher nervously hopped off and on from his place. Boo cautiously took a step onto the podium and looked vaguely confused. He reached out and took the hand of the man in second place. The man smiled at him and I thanked him. “Oh, it’s okay, he is my friend,” he said. Boo then decided to make himself comfortable and leaned up against his opponent, obviously looking for a snuggle. I was about to intervene when the athlete gave me a beautiful smile and said,”Aww, he loves me!” I have a lovely picture of this moment. The first and second place finishers are looking straight into the camera, arms upheld, beaming. Ravi is holding the hand of the second place finisher. The third place finisher took that moment to leap off the podium again and has vanished from that moment in history. I might have been crying, or there might have just been something in my eye.
I cannot say enough good things about the folks who put on Special Olympics. Every athlete is respected and valued. Every effort is appreciated. For a group of athletes who are usually on the fringes of society, this is their three days to shine. Thank you to all the volunteers who were so good and gentle with my son and all the other athletes. Thank you to my PCAs who were there with gummy bears at all the right places at all the right times. If there was a higher power directing this day and all the workers, thank you to you too.If you are looking for a gathering of angels in your town, allow me to direct you to the next Special Olympics event.