Last week the City of Gadsden hosted the Special Olympics. The event brought back memories of a very valuable lesson I learned while working with the Special Olympics while in college.
There was a time in my life when I was The Big Man on Campus. Some of my football exploits led me to be deceived about my actual importance. It was not uncommon for me to have air withdrawn from my football helmet to make room for my ever-expanding head.
I wasn’t conceited. Rather, I was convinced.
It was during this delusional state that I received the news that the coach wanted me and some of the other players perform a little P.R. work. Needless to say, this type of work usually serves to deepen our belief that we were God’s gift to the world. Little did I know what a profound affect that this particular event would have on me.
We arrived at the stadium assuming that we would be the center of attention in that we were local college football players taking time out of their busy schedules to attend a track meet.
This, however, wasn’t your ordinary track and field event.
As I looked around, I noticed that there were no well-chiseled bodies that one would expect to see at a track meet. I didn’t see any spandex or fancy tracksuits. Instead, I saw a bunch of eager little children of all different shapes and sizes. These kids would have been the last ones picked in gym class.
“What is going on here?” I asked.
“This is the Special Olympics,” replied a nearby man.
“Oh,” I muttered to myself.
“Well, what is it that you want us to do?” I asked. “Our coach sent us over to help.”
“You guys can be huggers,” he replied.
I took a quick glance around to see if there were any cheerleaders who needed hugging. “Who are we supposed to hug?” I asked.
“The kids,” he replied. “You guys can stand behind the tape and hug the children once they cross the finish line.”
We gathered behind the finish line as the first race got under way. The runners took their positions and started running as the gun sounded.
Now, there were no records broken and the runners weren’t graceful as Marion Jones. There faces will probably never grace the front page of a sport’s magazine or cereal box, but I do believe those kids were champions.
As the runners crossed the finish line, I could see the joy on their faces. I hugged the children and congratulated them. I was looking at them, but I was thinking to myself, “Here are these kids running, laughing, and giving it their all. They weren’t running for fame, fortune, or glory. They were running for a hug and because they could.”
I saw the way they tried, and their appreciation humbled me. I compared their attitude to my own. God had enabled me to play and excel at a game I loved. I took it for granted and was never really thankful. Most of the time I acted as if I had accomplished things on my own.
In those little children, I saw something I didn’t have. Somewhere between those hugs, I asked God’s forgiveness.
Each event only reiterated the theme of that day. During one race I watched a little girl struggle to complete the race. Her father came down out of the stands and asked what was wrong.
“Daddy I can’t do it.”
“Yes, you can, honey,” he replied. “I’ll run with you.”
I watched them, father and daughter running around the track. I never got a chance to hug her when she finished, because she turned to her dad and proclaimed, “Daddy I did it!”
Another event was related to me about a relay race. We all know that the objective in a relay race is for the teams to successfully pass the baton to each teammate as you race around the track. The team that does this exchange the fastest and crosses the finish line first is the winner.
In this particular race, the kids were headed down the home stretch when one of them dropped his baton. This normally is a cause for celebration among the other track teams, as in one less team to content for the medal.
In this race, however, things ended somewhat differently. A runner from the other team stopped and picked up the baton. He then handed it to the child, who dropped it. They joined hands and ran across the finish line together.
I don’t know about my teammates, but as we drove back to campus, I sat silently and reflected on what I had witnessed. I vowed to be a more appreciative person. My first step was to contact the equipment manager and get him to put some air back into my helmet.
It turns out that my head wasn’t as large as I thought it was.