The last time I saw Charley compete in Special Olympics, he was standing in the middle of a volleyball court crying. Not because he didn’t win. Everyone’s a winner at the Special Olympics. It’s about standing shoulder to shoulder with your fellow teammates, and mostly, having fun.
He was excited that day, putting on his official Special Olympics T-shirt, and he would have had a good time too, if I hadn’t fouled things up.
I can’t always go to his Special Olympics events, but that morning he put his arm around me and said, “Mom, you comin’?”
I started to blurt, “I can’t. I have to work.” But the fact is, I didn’t have to work that day, so, Brad and I were there to cheer him on.
As we entered the gym he came running up to us. “Guys, dis my Daddy, dis my Mom,” he grinned and pointed us out to anyone who would listen. I don’t know who was prouder, him or us.
Brad and I made our way to the bleachers and sat down, when moments later one of the coaches suggested we move.
“You can’t sit here,” she said, “Families sit in the upper level out of harm’s way.”
Even Brad pleaded with me to move to a safer seat, “Let’s move to the no kill zone,” he said.
But I had picked my spot and wasn’t about to budge. “I can see better here,” I insisted, when, five, four, three, two, one. BLAM. A volleyball right in the kisser. After that, the only things I was seeing were stars.
My face was bleeding, my nose was smashed, and my lip was cut. I tried not to cry as Brad escorted me to the hallway and helped me find the ladies room where I wiped my face with a wet paper towel and collected myself. I considered leaving and going home. I couldn’t see the game anyway; my glasses were a twisted mess. Besides, I didn’t want to embarrass Charley any more than I already had. But Charley wouldn’t understand if he looked up and we weren’t there, so we went back to the gym.
As I opened the door I expected to see a volleyball game in progress. Instead, what I saw was something I’ll never forget. There, in the middle of the floor, beside the volleyball net, was my son, surrounded by not only his team, but the opponents as well. He was crying, and his buddies had turned their attention from their own moment of glory to make sure Charley was okay.
I walked over to him and he threw his arms around me and cried some more. I assured him that I was okay, his teammates slapped him high-fives, the excitement returned, and the game resumed.
I learned several things that day. First, if you are going to bend the rules, you might end up being the one who’s bent. Even Moms are supposed to respect boundaries. Including me.
Second, there’s a reason they call it Special Olympics. It’s called sportsmanship and there’s so much more to it than beating the other guy. It’s all about the dream and the team. The dream to be a winner, and the team that loves the sport, but more importantly, loves each other.
Above all, it’s about helping a teammate find his smile so he can get back in the game. Because when you help someone else win, you win too.
And third. Isn’t it ironic? Those who are often considered the least of us because of their special needs are often the ones who teach us the most.