Last year, when Nathan was less than two weeks old, the police of our little Mayberry-ish town asked Mr. Andi to join them for the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run, which raises money for Special Olympics. Here in Mayberry, area law enforcement run together, carrying the torch, from our high school to the city stadium. Individuals with intellectual disabilities come from all over the county to compete.
Now Mr. Andi is a swimmer, not a runner, and actually bought new running shoes the night before, but he was enthusiastic about the run. The experience was very meaningful to him. It was the first time he recalled having heard the Special Olympics creed before:
“Please help me win, but if I can not, let me be brave in the attempt.”
The assistant police chief asked Mr. Andi to do it again this year; the event was this past Friday. He asked if it would be possible to push Nathan in the baby jogger during the event. The chief checked and confirmed that it would be okay.
I met Mr. Andi at the school with our precious cargo and stood on the fringes with my camera at the ready. The leader of the group prepped everyone for what to expect, and introduced Mr. Andi and Nathan. Shortly thereafter, the entire school came out for a Special Olympics pep rally.
My friend, Jennifer, and I leap-frogged the runners in our cars as they made their way across town, taking photographs and clanging cowbells. My friend, Dawn, and her mom, Cathy, also came out to cheer. Upon arriving at the stadium, I watched as each school’s athletes paraded around the track as part of the opening ceremonies. And then came the entry of the torch…
Mr. Andi had moved to the front of the pack of runners and was gripping the bottom of the torch in one hand and the baby jogger in the other. The police chief from another local town was to his right, also holding the torch, with all of the other runners lined up behind them. They made their way into the stadium. The emcee, a local radio personality, announced to the crowd:
The spot where I was standing was chosen just because it was easy. But as I watched the runners enter the stadium and pass the torch to the first of four athletes who would carry it around the track, I suddenly realized what a Big Deal this event was. Many people were positioned in the bleachers while the athletes and volunteers stood on the field inside the track. Tents had been set up at one end of the stadium. Food and T-shirts were being sold to spectators. And this event was on a weekday!
It took me back to my years in high school during the 1980s. We had a Special Olympics event – I remember only because I worked it as a volunteer – but it was a much smaller affair. Back in those days, kids with intellectual disabilities went to our school, but they were segregated from their peers.
At Friday’s event, I saw an entire elementary-aged class who had traveled over 30 miles to cheer on a classmate. When Sarah Kate arrived home from school, she told me that all the kids at her school had lined the halls cheering, clapping, and waving posters for their five athletes as they were departing that morning for the competition.
What a long way we have come! And just think – Special Olympics came into being because of one woman, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who was inspired by her sister to Do Something.
As our friend Joey said on Friday, it’s “&@#$ AWESOME!!!!”
*We don’t really live in Mayberry, and the emcee didn’t say Mayberry. Our family isn’t hard to find, but I want to at least make it a tiny bit of a challenge.