Today was, I suspect, the first of many Special Olympic appearances for Jake. This path started for him back in August of ’16 when he watched with wide eyes the athletes of the world compete in Rio. He asked his mother if he, too, could do that. As we looked at each other across the table and began to formulate another of our “we’ll see” or “maybe when you’re older” placations, an idea occurred to Beth. Maybe he could be an olympian. She works with an awesome lady who has dealt with the Special Olympics in the past. Perhaps she would know how, or even if, this dream could become a reality.
By the next dinner time, it was decided that Jake may get his chance.
Following a confusing set of forms, medical clearance documentation, and profoundly useless websites, he was signed up. We thought. When we got to the registration table today, they’d never heard of Jake. Beth had emailed the forms, but they’d somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. Our day was over at 8:15 a.m. Our hearts sunk. Could anything be done?
They needed a physician-approved clearance form, which we obviously couldn’t get by 9:00. Beth can’t access her work e-mail from her phone. After some coaxing and explaining our situation, they decided we MUST have done our due diligence and Jake could fill in some empty slots or lanes if they arose. We waited around until 9:00 and found out that at least a few kids hadn’t shown, and Jake could play.
He had the time of his life! The highlight reel is here:
There were times I thought I may burst with pride. It’s such a wonderful feeling to see your child go out and compete and succeed. It’s almost routine with Liv and Gabe, but it’s a pretty rare event for Jake on this level. He’s doing well in school and all, but this is different somehow. I even teared up just a little as the racers rounded the last corner on the first race of the day. It’s a very emotional day.
More importantly than Jake’s performance is Jake’s reaction to the day.
He kept wandering to the edge of the action and looking nervous. He kept muttering, “I’m a little nervous.” and “group hug” every so often. We kept reminding him that regardless of the outcome, we were very proud of his showing up and trying his best. The Special Olympic motto is: Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. Does it get any better than that? Really? You should hear how loudly EVERYONE cheers for EVERYONE. EVERYONE. It’s amazing.
Jake trying to psych himself up:
During the opening race (the mile), and all the heats of the 400m, Jake was clapping and cheering as loudly as any other fan. He was motivated – and involved. He was a little concerned with how loudly they played the America Song (national anthem) and that they were firing guns at the starting lines.
As we split up – Jake and I to the staging area and the others to the finish line, I asked Beth if she had any parting words of encouragement. Jake, either thinking this was his cue, or prompting Beth but then cutting her off, interjected: “Mom, any last words? I’ll try my best. I’ll run as fast as I can. And I won’t suck. I promise.”
And we were off.
When he came in second during his first race, I thought his resolve may crack. I was very wrong. “I was so close!” he said. “That guy is pretty fast like lightning! He was harder than I thought.”
Autism is mostly a non-obvious disorder. Jake looks “normal.” This is the first time he’s been in such a neurodiverse crowd. “What’s wrong with these kids?” he asked. “They sure don’t talk much.” When a young man was stimming pretty intensely, complete with vocalizations, Jake loudly proclaimed, “What’s all the racket?” Beth tried to teach him that we accept people for who they are, and don’t point out what makes them different. He’s rarely on that side of the coin.
When it was all said and done, I think the smile on his face sums up the day. I thought he may sprain his face from being so proud of himself.
What a wonderful opportunity for kids of all ages and abilities to get to feel good about themselves. The Special Olympics is truly a place that focuses on abilities and success, not just lists of deficits. Every one of those athletes were celebrated for their efforts. And if you ever get a chance to compete in a stadium of screaming fans – – do it. Jake’s still floating three feet above the ground. Next stop: the state competition in Orono on June 10th. Come and join us – we’re making a day of it.