How do you measure courage? That question can be answered by the individuals who joyfully participate in Special Olympics.
On the athletic field, as in life, people with intellectual challenges perform at the highest level they are capable of. That is the same measure of success we all aim for, and because they make that effort we respect their achievements. Of course every human being is unique with particular strengths and skills. That is why when a person participates in Special Olympics they not only have the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities they also have the chance to take on new challenges that will enable them to increase their self-confidence as they improve their physical health and overall wellbeing.
By breaking through personal barriers they develop courage, confidence and self-esteem. This can help them realize that they are capable of doing even more than they thought, and that is what being a Special Olympics athlete is all about. Although achievement is a worthy goal, the most important thing is to make the effort. To be brave enough to “try” is more than most people can claim. Too many of us hide in our comfort zones and refuse to push ourselves; however, those who participate in Special Olympics take on new endeavors and reach for new goals. For them it is not only the exhilaration of competition but also the sense of fulfillment that sweeps over them as they make new friends and interact with their peers. It means developing a sense of belonging and camaraderie. It means enjoying the entire experience no matter what the athletic results may be.
Of course the most rewarding aspect of Special Olympics is that each individual is valued for who they are. There are no judgments based on what they can or cannot do. There are no unfair expectations so there is no pressure. There are no restrictions imposed. There is only acceptance. Each athlete is treated as an equal human being, without regard to any specific challenges they may face. They are given the dignity and respect they deserve, and they are appreciated as a person.
Special Olympics encourages ideals that can be used in all areas of life. It teaches the importance of perseverance, the joy of participation and the rewards of interacting with others. It allows individuals to not only test their physical strength and endurance but also to push themselves emotionally and intellectually as they attempt to perform to the best of their abilities. It allows them to experience the satisfaction and pride that results from giving their best effort. The sense of accomplishment that they rightfully feel when they are awarded their medals makes them feel valued and respected.
Unfortunately, society sometimes has a tendency to focus solely on the things the athletes struggle with. We are all familiar with the labels and categorizations that are used in an attempt to define our friends and loved ones. We are aware of the unfeeling designations and descriptions that are attached to flesh and blood human beings. We have all experienced the frustration of being told by someone that a person with a developmental disability cannot do this or that before they have even been allowed to attempt it. Special Olympics can play an important role in taking the focus off of the negative and placing it on the positive. For both the athlete and their family it can be an enriching experience that opens up new perspectives on what is possible. New skills are learned and new confidence is gained. A competitor can come away from an event and feel good about themselves.
There is so much negativity in life – so much to be concerned about – so much that is troubling – that it is a pleasure for all of those involved with this amazing organization to spend their time and energy in activities where everyone wins. There are very few areas of life where each and every person finds complete acceptance and inclusion. This athletic competition stands out as a beacon to those who simply want to be treated as equals. It provides them with a platform to put forth their greatest effort, and it shows the world that they have the same hopes, dreams and desires as everyone else.
But by far the greatest thing about Special Olympics is the fact that it is so much fun! Athletes get to spend time with their old friends even as they make new ones. They are focused and fully engaged as they do their very best in their events. The volunteers who work with them and support them add joy and enthusiasm to the experience. The self-confidence and sense of accomplishment each competitor feels is thrilling and exciting. Everyone involved has a terrific time and discovers new things about themselves and others. The whole world benefits from all the positive outcomes that are generated by this wonderful organization. Lessons that we all need to learn are on display during each event. All we have to do is open our hearts and our minds to realize that those who compete for the sheer joy of it are showing us the purity and beauty of the human spirit.
Special Olympics is the perfect combination of courage, commitment and compassion.