Remembering the “Special” in Special Olympics

You may or may not know that at one time I had a special needs child.  Sara was my heart, and for seventeen years I laughed a little louder, cried a little harder and generally lived a little bigger life, because Sara needed me and I needed to be strong for her.  Or so I thought.

Special needs kids are amazing. Yes, it’s scary to walk up to them and talk directly to them.  It’s so much easier to ask their adult companion (special needs kids seem to wear adults around them like other kids wear bikes, fashion show-stoppers and other kids).  But just like “normal” kids, special needs kids have a lot to share and give. Don’t ask their adults “how old is she?” Ask the child (or special adult), “What do you like to do?”

Sara in basketball uniform

Special Talents

It’s with that can-do spirit and recognition that the special community has a lot to offer, that Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics.  With a sister of her own who had intellectual differences, Eunice learned first hand, how kids with disabilities have the same power and dreams of every other person on our planet.

Today, you’re probably watching some basketball or gymnastics or even badminton.  You may be watching the Olympics taking place in London.  Who isn’t? But last year, the World Special Olympics were held in Athens.  They had all those events and more.  Unfortunately, there was no real television coverage of the event.  I didn’t even know about it until I looked it up for this blog post. I guess our commercial media don’t think anyone would be interested.

Sara never went to a world Olympics, and I think she only participated in one or two local events, but I remember how much she loved being on the Heritage High School Unified Eagles basketball team. I remember how much I loved going to those games and watching what to me was the true spirit of sportsmanship.  I loved how kids from opposing teams helped each other achieve success.  I will never forget Sara’s first basket in a game.  I cried all the way home — just before I bought her a promised new video for such a big achievement.

Reality is, I wouldn’t wish for any child to be born with special needs. Life is harsh enough without the special challenges that come from being different.  But I was wrong about needing to be strong for my daughter.  It was quite the reverse.  Her spirit was strong for me.

So, if you find yourself in the company of a special needs person, be sure to ask for their autograph. Chances are you are in the company of an Olympic champion.


I saw Bruce the other day, walking along Bowles.  He used to work at Albertson’s before the Albertson’s near us closed up and moved on.  Before the economic “dip” of 2008.

Bruce looks older, his scoliosis more pronounced, his grey hair taking over more of his head and the perpetual scowl drawn clearly across his face. I miss saying hello to him at the grocery store.

Bruce was one of my special friends who made my day when he remembered me as a friend.  Then his face would light up and he would remind me I gave him a ride home once.

Best of all, I loved how Bruce would always be excited about his birthday. It happened in October each year, and kicked off the Halloween season for us.  He would tell me a week in advance of all his plans, and how he was going to be thirty-this or so much older.  I wondered how I’d lost the excitement for my own birthday, why I didn’t plan to make that unique holiday special  any more.

Celebrating in life is an important part of the human experience.  We separate years and months with these markers of our own time on earth.

So today is my husband’s birthday.  I think I’ll remember Bruce’s lessons and do what I can to help my guy really celebrate.  After all, you’re only this age once.