Thinking differently about people with differences

Jun 13, 2012

Guest blogger Shelia Burks shares her experience with a recent volunteer project for Special Olympics.

My first experience with a special needs person was right in my own back yard. My cousin Angelo had Downs Syndrome. He was just a regular person to me. I learned sign language to talk to him so we could communicate better. And we did.

Angelo passed away, but he left this place in me that caused me to befriend the “different” kids at school. To stop the bullies from pushing them around, I’d walk to classes with them. I recruited a few of my other friends and we became a kind of army.

While I have always held a special place in my heart for individuals with special needs, I never volunteered for Special Olympics. After my first experience at the Special Olympics, my life will simply never be the same.

I volunteered to help the swimmers. Watching these children and young adults was life-rewarding. They choose to compete when the world says you’re different.

The first moment that I found myself on my feet cheering was for the young lady who was wheeled out to the pool. She had one arm that was mobile and no leg mobility. She finished last, but she finished.

I watched a young man do the 400 (that’s 8 laps in the pool!!) and beat his personal record time, even though he came in last place.

I had several epiphanies.  First, maybe they are not the ones with “challenges.” Maybe we as “normal” individuals are. How often do we, who have few challenges, give up? How often do we not even try?  We throw in the towel.

We get complacent….but not them.  They took their challenges and made them work for them, and they FINISHED.

I saw athletes come in last and the crowd cheered them on and when they finished they were proud of themselves. I recalled the Bible scripture that says that the race is not given to the swift or the strong but to the one who ENDURES.

You can’t endure if you don’t start, so what do you need to start today?  What do you need to pick back up to finish? The crowd – your close circle – will cheer you on. Endure!

“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

– Special Olympics Athlete’s Oath

  • 1 Comment

    • Pattie Chapman says:

      Hi, I am the parent of a former S.O. athlete. Thank you for your kind words and the joy that your article has brought. This is an amazing organization and it was a part of my life for about 20 years. Thank you for sharing with everyone. God Bless.

      Pattie Chapman
      Mom & Former Regional Coordinator
      Special Olympics NH

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