Eddie with his winning ribbons
Last weekend I ventured to Merrill, WI to watch my friend, Eddie as he competed in the Special Olympics. It was a beautiful day for the event, sunny and warm! Eddie completed in 3 events: 1500 Meter Run, Relay Race and the Running Long Jump.
History of Special Olympics
Eunice Kennedy Shiver (sister of John F. Kennedy) founded the Special Olympics on July 20, 1968. After witnessing the unfair treatment of cognitively disabled children, Eunice decided to take action. She set out to start a summer sports camp for children with cognitive disabilities. With help from the White House and many others, the summer sports camp evolved into the Special Olympics, a global sensation with 170 participating countries!
Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, hosted the first public Special Olympic games. Eunice literally jumped right into the first event, aquatics. This made her not only the founder of Special Olympics, but also the first volunteer!
“Let me win, but if I can’t win, let me be brave in the attempt.”, the Special Olympics slogan, clearly states their mission as well. Today, Special Olympics is for athletes ages 8 and up with cognitive/intellectual disabilities.
I met Eddie on the school bus in high school. Unfortunately, I lost contact with Eddie after I graduated. However, with the power of Facebook, Eddie contacted me last year and our friendship resumed. Cheering for Eddie at the regional competition gave me the opportunity to show my appreciation for all the support he gives me.
Eddie started competing in the Special Olympics at the age of 10, he is now 22 and does not plan on stopping any time soon! He loves the fact that “People have the ability to compete against other people in events they like.” However, the best benefit in Eddie’s opinion is the opportunity to make new friends.
Eddie has competed in many different events. In Track and Field, he has competed in the 3000 and 1500 meter race, standing long jump, running long jump, turbo javelin, and the relay race. During the winter Special Olympics, Eddie has participated in bowling and snow shoeing. Despite all the events he has already tried, Eddie still wants to try new events like basketball and swimming.
Kaeda celebrating her win!
Special Olympic participants work hard, as all athletes do. Eddie began to practice weekly in February for this event. He and his team encourage each other on and off the field. I witnessed this myself at the event. Team members from all over the region cheered for their teammates. Eddie cheered extra hard for one particular teammate, his girlfriend Kaeda as she took first in her wheelchair race!
We made it to Merrill in time to see Eddie in all three of his events. The first event was the 1500 meter run. He smoked it! In the final lap, Eddie began sprinting. Some of his teammates were not paying attention and walked onto the track. Eddie had to run through and around them. Despite this additional obstacle, Eddie’s time was 7:02! He scored a 1st place ribbon for his efforts!
After a short break, Eddie ran in a relay race. He and his partner took 3rd place. What really impressed me about this event was the sportsmanship and teamwork. At the end of the race, I saw Eddie shaking hands with the winner. Part of being a great athlete is good sportsmanship.
The final event was the running long jump. Each participant had a few practice runs. After the practice runs, they had several chances to jump as far as possible. They longest jump counted. Eddie had a great day and took second!
During the award ceremony, Eddie discovered he was on his way to the state competition! Ribbons were given at this level of competition. When Eddie goes to state in June, he will then compete against athletes from all over the state! If he places in the state level, he will then receive medals! This will be the fourth year in a row that Eddie made it to the state competition level!
Congrats Eddie! I am so proud of your dedication and achievements!!
Special Olympics Today
Today the Special Olympics have over four million athletes competing worldwide. To give you an idea of how much the ever-growing popularity of Special Olympics is, they have enough athletes to fill over half of New York City. That’s a tremendous accomplishment. For further information on how to donate or get involved, click here.
My Positive Observations
I have to admit this was the first time I ever attended a Special Olympics event. I was a bit overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that surrounded me. There were tons of people and tight spaces, which makes movement difficult. It was a sunny day and in the sun, things got pretty hot. I did notice that the coaches and volunteers made the effort to make sure the athletes were hydrated. However, shade was sparse at the event.
While sitting in the shade, an older athlete became weak and collapsed. The quick response of bystanders and the on-site EMS was impressive. They quickly sat him down and looked him over before moving him the first aid tent. Two officers also quickly responded and called the ambulance. I was really touched by the way the officers conversed with this man, very concerned and respectful.
I really enjoyed watching the teamwork and good sportsmanship. There were teammates cheering each other on, in addition to opposing teams cheering others on. It is clear that important and life long friendships are formed through this event. Most importantly, I think Special Olympics encourages athletes of all abilities to not let obstacles stand in the way of setting goals and achieving dreams. Lessons learned through practice and competition can be used in all aspects of life.
Although the event was overall a positive experience, there were a few other observations I made. There was a lot of “ordering” and at times yelling at the athletes. While I understand there can be a great deal of chaos during these events, the experience should be a positive one. I observed several parents who were critical of the performance of their kids. I have never been a fan of this kind of pressure. It takes a lot of courage and dedication to participate, isn’t that the most important thing?
I was also disappointed in the ribbon ceremonies. It was really confusing and chaotic. I was unable to watch Eddie receive his ribbons, due to the crowded space. The athletes worked hard to prepare for this competition. Their friends and loved ones come to not only see them compete, but also to see them awarded for their hard work and dedication. I really would have loved to cheer on Eddie as he received his ribbons.
The lack of celebration at the finish line was surprising and disappointing. Cheering and hugs at the finish line has always been a signature of Special Olympics. Many of the athletes crossed the finish line with little to no fanfare. It could be due to this being a regional competition as opposed to the state competition. However, I think the athletes definitely deserve to be boldly acknowledged for their efforts!
Eddie will be heading to state in June! I will be there to cheer as loud as I can! If you know a Special Olympian, I encourage you to take the time to go cheer them on in their competitions, not just for their benefit, but for yours as well.
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’!
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