Tomorrow, in my corner of RI, it is time for the area games for Special Olympics. This is a major event in our lives, and one we look forward to every spring. You see, my son Paul is a Special Olympian. Paul has been participating since he was 8 years old, he's now 22. Paul has little in the way of physical athletic ability, but has a lot in the "I want to be included" social ability. This was not always the case, and we credit Special Olympics, and his terrific coaches, with his growth.
As a little boy Paul didn't deal well with crowds, loud noises, chaos or being off-schedule. His coaches helped him by introducing him bit by bit to the wild world of the Olympic games. Over the years he has learned to love to be with active crowds, with fireworks and parades, and to live off the cuff (well, a little). Just seeing us get his uniform out sends him into squeals of joy and excitement! Although non-verbal, Paul has many ways of communicating his joy and pleasure with his team.
Paul does what is a called a 25 meter developmental walk, assisted. It's pretty much as it sounds. He walks for 25 meters and it's OK if his coach has to help him along. Over the years Paul has been able to walk the distance completely on his own. However, he usually stops along the way to either bask in the cheers or to go say hello to a pretty girl watching from the sidelines! He really doesn't care if his medal is gold, silver or bronze. It's all about the participation.
Last year Paul added swim to his events. He competes in a 25 meter developmental float, assisted, also. But he surprised us and actually learned to swim! His coach says that this year they are going to win gold!
Special Olympics has also helped Paul's parents. We've learned to let go and let Paul go. We don't coach him, we stand back and let the coaches do their job. And when the state games occur, Paul spends 3 days at the University of RI, in the dorm, with his team and his coach. Where we once fretted about him for the entire weekend, we now enjoy his going (almost) as much as he does! We have all grown from the experiences.
We now have friends on many of the teams across the state. We've bonded with other parents, we've watched little children grow into young men and women. It has been an experience like no other. If you ever get the opportunity to watch a Special Olympics event, take it. You can thank me later.