You see, these athletes were competing for gold medals . . . provided by the Special Olympics.
If you have never attended a Special Olympics event or something similar, put that on your bucket list. You will cheer, you will cry, you will smile, and you will walk away realizing that life is about so much more than the petty things we think matter so much.
None of the kids I saw will be the next Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay, but I venture they had just as much heart, if not more.
I watched kids who could barely express themselves verbally run their fastest to support their team in a relay race. I saw precious boys and girls grin excitedly at the top of the winner’s podium after clinching a gold medal in a sprint. And I saw wheelchair races with happy participants who could barely move just a few fingers on their bodies.
The only ones with quite possibly more heart that day were the parents in the stands. For around three hours, I had the privilege of sitting in bleachers surrounded by these extraordinary people who defy odds each and every day of their lives.
They cheered with reckless abandonment for their kids, the kids of their friends, and the kids of completely random strangers. It didn’t matter to them whether their child finished first or fourth. They were right there at the fence, rejoining in the fact that they FINISHED. . . and they finished well.
I saw a gentleman stride up to the side of a dear girl who was singing the national anthem at the top of her lungs, but still barely audible. By herself she struggled, but once his rich voice joined in song, they performed an impromptu duet that would bring tears to your eyes.
I saw a father run alongside his severely handicapped son, encouraging him to stay focused on the finish line as they ran the race together. At the end, both of them wore medals that day and rightly so.
I can’t imagine the courageous hearts beating in the breasts of these parents. Many of them, like my dear friends Tina and Darrell, knew before their child’s birth that they would have a special needs child. But instead of doing the unthinkable, they refused to “terminate” their pregnancy and brought into the world one of my favorite teenagers in the whole wide world.
Is life with a special needs child easy? Absolutely not.
But it is worth it?
I only had to take one glance into the faces of the parents—and athletes—that day to realize that you could never put a price tag on the heart of a precious child.