Sunday, April 21, 2013

The "Special" in Special Olympics

On Tuesday morning,  I hid my tears as I got Chloe ready for school. I would be missing her class field trip to the zoo. I once knew what it was like to be a working mom and miss my child. Now I know what it is like to have to miss one child's event, so that I can be with one of my other children for a different event. It's hard.

I knew other moms would be there, and I gently explained to Chloe why I would not be able to go. I had to be with Lilli that day. Chloe, only six, was gracious in her understanding. She knew that Lilli was going to be in the Special Olympics that morning, and she was excited for Lilli. The night before, Chloe was pushing Lilli in her therapy swing and singing, "Lilli's going to be in a race...Lilli's going to be in a race!" She made up a song about Lilli running really fast. "I hope you get a Piston Cup!" she told Lilli. She was so cute I didn't correct her. I love Chloe's heart. She never complained. She was so excited for Lilli. This is why I had tears. It was a tough decision to make, but if I had chosen to go with Chloe, I would have had no one to be with Lilli, and Lilli would not have been able to go to Special Olympics. My husband just started his new job last week, and he cannot take a day off yet.

After Chloe left, I got Lilli and Josh ready. Lilli's homebound teacher, Leslie, came with us. Lilli was excited, I could tell. We were to meet the special needs class from Lilli's school at the registration tables, so we stood and watched as bus after bus pulled up and unloaded. Dozens of students of all ages with special needs slowly walked and wheeled by us on their way down to the track. My little Josh watched intently and smiled. "Wave hello, Joshie," I said. Josh waved, and they waved back, while holding the hands of countless teachers and helpers. Lilli practiced running in the grass and Leslie chased her. It was a beautiful spring morning, and excitement was building in the air all around us as everyone arrived.

Finally, the last bus pulled up - Lilli's school. We all walked slowly with the little pack of students from the registration tables down to the track for the opening ceremony. Everyone was holding hands, and all the adults were alert like mother hens making sure no one wandered off. As we crested the hill and saw the cheering crowd with music playing and the announcer exclaiming over the speakers, I welled up with emotion. "Lilli, look at all of these people!" I whispered into her ear as we walked. "They are all special, just like you are!" I was moved by the celebration and the fact that my sweet daughter, who has cerebral palsy and still trips every day, was about to run in a race with other kids just like her. We stepped onto the track and the announcer called our school's name with great fanfare. The crowd cheered as we as we made our way around the track with the other schools. Lilli was holding my hand and not knowing what to make of all of this. After about a minute, she smiled and waved her arms with excitement, and did her happy little bounce-skip-walk. It's always nice to be cheered for, and Lilli decided she loved it.

We found our place in the grass in the center of the track. I had never seen so many people with special needs together in one place. One boy walked by us with his helper, and I recognized him from Lilli's therapy riding class. I said hello to him, and pointed him out to Lilli. They glanced at each other and he smiled. Neither of them can talk, so the helper and I made a little conversation for them. I told him we hoped he had a fun day, and they went on their way.

This whole time, I kept thinking to myself, This is so great. All of these kids... here together...excited, getting ready to participate in something fun... out here in the beautiful sunshine. All of the teachers, helpers, and volunteers, excited along with them. Helping them. Loving them. It was just something I had never experienced. Later, Lilli's therapist asked me, "Hadn't you ever been to a Special Olympics before?" She had volunteered at one before. No, I hadn't. I had never paid any attention to events like that before we had Lilli. But I think it is something everyone should experience.

Waiting with Ms. Leslie before the race. 
A local pastor gave the invocation, thanking God for all of the different gifts He has given us, and for all of the special athletes competing in the Special Olympics that day. His prayer really moved me, because I believe it with all of my heart. All of those students on that field had special gifts given to them by God, and I was so privileged to be the mother of one of them. A group of local law enforcement officers did the "Torch Run," and one carried a little boy with special needs on his shoulders as they ran around the track. That touched my heart. But the national anthem was what really got me. A young man with special needs stood up to sing a capella. He began the song in a strong, clear voice. It was obvious that he had a disability, and that he had no special vocal training or singing talent. However, it was the most beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that I have ever heard. About halfway through, he got mixed up. He was belting out "...AND THE ROCKET'S RED...." and then he stopped. "OH! OK!" he yelled into the microphone. "...OH SAY CAN YOU SEE..." he started again from the beginning. He sang the whole song all over again, straight through this time. We all cheered at the end, and again I found myself wiping away tears. I was proud of this young man, whoever he was. Belting it out, forgetting the words and all, that was absolutely beautiful.

When it was Lilli's turn to run, I stood near the finish line with Josh in his stroller, and got my camera ready. I was a little nervous for Lilli, because I did not know if she would run. Lilli will run willingly for certain things, and she can run fast enough that I have to run to chase her. But running a race, with a beginning and an end - this was new to her. When we had practiced, she'd needed help getting started, and guidance to keep going to the finish line. Leslie got her positioned in her lane, and stood behind her while they waited for the race to start. I held my breath.

When the race began, Lilli ran a few feet, and and then she just stopped. She stood there in the middle of her lane, while the other racers ran by. The man who was officiating ran over to her and tried to get her to run. I cheered and yelled Lilli's name, and hoped, helpless from my place on the sidelines with little Josh, that she would start to run again. Then Leslie, who had been cheering her on from the grass on the side, ran out to her and took her hand. She ran with her all the way to the finish line. Lilli came in last, but I have never been so proud of her.

All I have to do is remember back to a doctor telling us long ago, that she would never walk.

Even though it was thrilling as a parent to see my child participate in this event, run in a race, and receive a ribbon, this was not for me. It was for Lilli. She had never had the opportunity to do anything like this before. She was happy and proud. I was so very glad we went.

I also was so very thankful for all of the wonderful people who love and help my daughter everyday. Special Olympics was not only "special" because of the students participating in the events, it was special because of the hundreds of people there helping those students. Selflessness is always evident  and touching when people love and help those who have a disability. The picture of Leslie running out and taking Lilli's little hand, and running with her all the way to the finish line, was symbolic to me. Lilli needs someone to take her hand and help her through life, and I can't always be the one to do it. She is so blessed to have others who help her and genuinely love her. Parents who have children with special needs can't do life alone...they need other people to "run out onto the track" and take over sometimes.

My heart was full. That night, we sat around the table and watched the video of Lilli running with Ms. Leslie. We looked at pictures, and Chloe wanted to see Lilli's ribbon. Chloe told us all about her trip to the zoo, and drew us pictures of the animals she saw. I was proud of all of those special young people at the Special Olympics. I was proud of all of the parents, teachers, and volunteers who loved these students enough to make this event happen. I was proud of my daughter, Lilli, for participating and running in her very first race. And so proud of my Chloe, for being gracious and happy for her sister.

Josh was so good the whole time.
Giving her teacher some love.

Getting in her lane...Lilli's on the left with Ms. Leslie behind her
Ms. Leslie running the race with Lilli.

Waiting patiently to get her ribbon after the race

Proud momma.

No comments:

Post a Comment