I have been working as the Assistant to the Assistant coach on my daughter's swim team for the Special Olympics. None of our swimmers will go to the World Championships coming up in July, but we plan to go and cheer on those who are competing. This past weekend we had two meets, back to back, the first time our team has done this since my daughter has been part of the team. We usually have a meet every couple of weeks, so there is time to recover and practice and get ready.
Having two meets in two days caused me some anxiety, how would the athletes do? Many have low muscle tone, so would they have the endurance to compete two days in a row? Would our new athletes be overwhelmed by the chaos, the hurry up and wait pattern of a swim meet? Would our coaches endure through the process of staging all 34 athletes on our team in the races with approximately 300 other athletes who would be competing? Would the parents have the endurance to not only get their athletes to the meet and back but help set up tents, serve food, monitor races, and make sure everyone was having a good time?
For me, as an assistant to the assistant, I had to round up the athletes who were next to race, march them over to the staging area, make sure they went into the pool area when they were called and then hopefully have time to watch them race before getting the next group.
As now I look back, I find the emotions of watching the athletes I have been working with, and my daughter who is an old pro now, come pouring out of my eyes. To see how those swimmers, who could hardly swim 10 meters, now compete in a real meet for the first time, to see how far they have come, and triumph by completing their events, and racking up the medals, was simply amazing to me.
Some cannot really do a freestyle stroke, they do a sort of hybrid of a doggy paddle and free style, but who can make it 15 meters, is inspirational, to see their joy and see them presented with medals, ah, it makes all the hard work more than worth it. We simply lived up to the teams motto of featuring their abilities, not their disabilities. And the parents who experienced this thrill for the first time, well they too were a delight to watch, they work so hard to care for , to nurture and support their children, and all their efforts in this moment were rewarded as well.
I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers who make these events possible, it is no small task to put on a meet, it does take a village. But, the reward outweighs the sacrifices of time and energy.
As far as the worries I had, well after two long days from 7:30-4:40 of being the rounder upper, I can say I was far from worn out, I was pumped up with pride and joy. And so were the parents and their athletes, we ended with smiles on our faces and hearts.
Special Olympians are everywhere, I hope you will add attending an event like a swim meet or track an field meet, or bowling, or golf or any other sports that may be taking place in your community to your bucket list. I am confident it will change your hearts and the way you look at others. You might even get out that bathing suit and start swimming a few laps...