Writing has taken a backseat to life lately. When you work in a profession dominated with writing and are researching for a dissertation, writing for pleasure isn’t really pleasurable. But, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share an experience that happened early in the month—the Kentucky State Special Olympics Games. The event was refreshing. Why? For a few hours, I was surrounded by nothing but kind, competitive spirit and happiness. It reminded me how much I enjoy being a part of this lifestyle, although it can be challenging at times.
As the mom of a special needs child who loves cultural anthropology and behavior analysis, I find myself perplexed by the competitive drive of some typical functioning children and their parents. I guess I take after my dear father who was more fun-loving than competitive. I hate participating in or watching competitions. I don’t discount their value, and I don’t buy into the logic that EVERYONE deserves a ribbon. Darwin knew what he was talking about when he explained “survival of the fittest,” which applies even in competition. In life, there are winners and losers. The tender-hearted side of me (yes, I have a heart) always feels bad for the loser. Someone has to drop his or her head and run in from the field while the fireworks bang and confetti falls for someone else. Someone has to polish their resume while someone else unpacks boxes in his or her new office. It’s simply life.
But, the nature of the competition is what troubles me most. Sure, we want our children to win, because we don’t want them to be disappointed from losing. When I was a child, I remember hearing about a local mother (yes, the natural nurturer) being removed from her child’s little league game for disruptive behavior. Disruptive behavior is so rampant at children’s competitive events that communities have started hanging signs to remind parents it’s only a game and to watch their language. I wonder if the next generation of parents at little league games will continue their parents’ behavior or sit quietly remembering the embarrassment. As parents we want our children to experience accolades, pats on the back… happiness.
That’s what makes the Special Olympics so special. Sure, there are winners. You know it, because they proudly wear those medals while standing on the podium for pictures and recognition. And, there are losers… but those are harder to recognize. As I sat in the stands waiting for the prince and his dad to take their marks for his Young Athlete’s 15m dash, I watched the older athletes race on the track. The athlete leading the pack had a stride of pride. The entire crowd erupted in cheers as he passed the stands. What makes that so special? The crowd continued their eruption for every runner; every runner, even the one bringing up the rear, had a stride of pride and enormous smile. I was in awe. These people were cheering for people on the “other side” and encouraging them to cross the finish line.
That’s what is missing from typical competitions. We square off at district tournaments and other games. My side sits here; you sit over there. I’ll “boo” your team’s every move, and you’ll “boo” my team. If my team loses, I will talk about the terrible coaches on my team and how the referees were obviously your fans. If my team wins, I will talk about our awesome coaches and players, how fair the referees were, and the terrible behavior of the sore losers.
While I hate competition, I can get caught up in the moment from time to time. One night while watching a WKU basketball game on television, our opposing team scored with a terrific shot. Caden clapped, jumped up and down, held his arms up, and cheered loudly. A proud Hilltopper, I said, “Caden, that’s the wrong team.” He looked at me, jumped up and down, and cheered some more. He never leaves a WKU Volleyball game disappointed with the outcome. A winner was crowned, but the loser was still applauded.
We all need a little Special Olympics to remind us how we should behave—to remind us there should be just as much pride in finishing the race as standing on the podium. We hope one day our child will stand on the podium, but we know he really wouldn’t enjoy standing still for a picture anyway. His moment was during the race—and that’s why the games are the truly Special Olympics.