Countdown to Gatlinburg

logo-special-olympics-1By Sherry McCaulley Palmer

I wrote this last year after Charley left for Special Olympics. He’s heading to Gatlinburg again this year, thanks to the support and outreach of Gina Legg and Gibbs High School. These folks who give of themselves to make sure Charley has the Special Olympics experience have no idea how much it means to him. I hope over the next couple of weeks to change that.

So I begin this series of Special Olympics posts by looking back. It is with this in mind, that we look forward.

It’s Monday night, and I’m struggling with writing. All writers will tell you they sometimes stare at the blank page for what seems like forever, and that’s what I’m doing. Or, at least that’s what I was doing, until I received a text about ten minutes ago.

Charley’s an easy subject for the most part. With his shenanigans, his laugh, and what we call his bullheaded chromosome, he’s anything but blank. But when he’s gone my oomph goes with him.

You see, Sunday he boarded a bus and headed to the winter games of the Special Olympics in Gatlinburg. But back to the text – oh how I needed it, because there, on my cell phone was a picture of him, standing on the ski slopes with his teacher, Miss Gerry.

He’s temporarily ditched the grey muscle-man shirt he lives in and is sporting a red hooded sweatshirt like the rest of the team.

He’s wearing brand new jeans that bend in all the right places when he unleashes his dance moves that make him look cool on the dance floor. He’s put on aftershave to give him some oomph, even though he didn’t shave before he left. But most of all, he’s wearing a grin and a twinkle in his eye.

He’s staying in a hotel room and partying the night away. He’s probably meeting a girl but will most likely forget to get her phone number and will arrive home expecting that we will magically know how to call the girl he now refers to as his “Purty.”

It’s all because of Special Olympics, created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in her back yard in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s so that her sister Rosemary would have a place to play. I wonder if she knew that somewhere in Gatlinburg nearly 63 years later, a man with intellectual challenges would be having the time of his life because someone saw past disabilities into the core of abilities.

Someone envisioned a better way of life for people like my Charley. Someone looked around, counted her blessings, and showered others with opportunities. Because of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he is running, lacing up a pair of ice skates, and hanging onto the handlebars of the walker-like support device that steadies him so he won’t land on his backside. But so what if he does? He’ll think of himself as a winner because he had the courage to put one foot in front of the other, and try.

Fascinating, how a traditional team practices until they are ready for the big game. Only a select few get to run out onto the field to the roar of a thundering crowd. Over and over, they practice their moves; fine tuning their technique that will make them legends in their arenas.

Special Olympics practices too. They practice patience, support, respect, encouragement. Somewhere in Gatlinburg, there are teachers and coaches who have taken time out of their personal lives to make the Special Olympics a reality for someone else. While their own families are at home, these individuals provide hands-on assistance to the participants, so that life can have a little more meaning. No one makes them do this; they do it out of love for their students, so they can be included. So they can have their moment. Their thundering crowd. Their arena. A little extra oomph.

If you know of a teacher or coach who has given so much of themselves for these special athletes, take a moment won’t you, to thank them on behalf of all Special Olympians everywhere.

Tell them Charley sent you.

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