Special Olympians are an inspiration

She wasn’t a young woman and I don’t know how severe her mental challenges were. She was the smallest of the eight women that walked to the starting line of the 3,000- metre event and she had already competed in the 100-, 400- and 800- metre events earlier in the day.

She was one of many Special Olympic athletes at McLeod Athletic Park at the regional qualifications for the 2013 Provincial Special Olympics to be held in Langley in July 2013.The Special Olympics is designed to help people with intellectual disabilities participate in sports competition and sports training. It is a global organization offering 30 different sports in both the winter and the summer.

The gun sounded and she fell quickly to the back of the pack, but as she passed us her determination was strong and her breathing and pace were measured. As the runners passed the grandstands’ cheers of encouragement carried them along and the front pace setters widened the gap.

She came by a second time and smiled at the cheers. There were no Nike shoes or Adidas running outfits, mostly runners, T-shirts and shorts. There was no purse at the finish line, just the possibility to move on to next year’s events.

The front runners lapped her and when they finished she had full lap yet to go. Even though no one would have faulted her for stopping, she carried on.

As she came around the final turn she fist pumped in the air, increased her stride and in typical track and field spirit, she sprinted the final 50 metres. She was greeted by the winner and the other runners, coaches and family and I doubt I will see anything at the Olympics in London that will move me as much.

The day before, I had been watching the NHL draft from Pittsburgh, where men in $1,000 suits moved young athletes around like pawns on a chessboard. As each boy was drafted, his family and teammates and coaches cheered and cried and the boys were justifiably proud of the rewards for their years of training and dedication. They were all close to becoming millionaires.

What sets these two groups of athletes apart; maybe a recessive gene or an extra chromosome? Maybe it was a quirk of nature at conception or an incident at birth? That decision is made for us and too often, we take the little miracles in our life for granted.

But what these athletes have in common is more important. They have the encouragement and support of their families. They have top quality coaching and training. They have been instilled with the attitude that they can compete at the highest level and they have felt the adrenaline surge when the finish line is crossed or the goal light flashes on. But I think a Special Olympic smile is a bit more contagious.

A few years back, only a half dozen communities in B.C. had Special Olympic programs. Now there are 55 communities and the number is growing. The coaches who volunteer are dedicated, well-trained and committed to the athletes, who can reach international competition. The best in the province will be here in July 2013.

Watching her at the finish line, with her hands on her hips, I remembered being told that you can keep going long after you think you can’t. We need reminders like that once in awhile. At least that’s what McGregor says.

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