When I started coaching Special Olympics a handful of years ago, I had no idea just what I was getting into and how much this amazing organization would alter my life. I have made many, many friends and have been motivated and inspired to be a better person because of all the love and passion inherent in the athletes, their families, their coaches, and their fans.
When I became legal guardian of my sister with special needs, one of my goals was to get her involved in Special Olympics. I felt the social aspect and the activity-based structure would be something she would enjoy. It took many discussions, battles, and emotional ups and downs, but finally, she agreed to take me up on my offer and she began earlier this year in bowling.
At practice, she slowly became ingratiated into the weekly routine, saw more and more people she knew, and seemed to get more and more excited for each passing week. Watching her roll with the punches (gutter balls) and celebrate victories (strikes and spares) allowed me to reflect on her progress and growth over the last few years.
At the first tournament, it all came full circle. The tension. The angst. The joy. I rode an emotional roller coaster for her as she competed. Whether she knocked down pins or not, I was on the edge of the seat with every frame. I've been on the coaching side of things and been proud of the athlete, but this feeling was different.
This pride was certainly evident as my sister finished up her final game and headed to awards. Seeing so many athletes ahead of her light up as their names were announced and they received their award made me a bit nervous thinking about how my sister would react, knowing full well she didn't win first place and moreover, knowing she knew it too. Putting those fears aside, I watched the elation in her eyes as she heard her name, walked up to the front of the crowd, and received her award. Then, as we left the tournament and she listed all the people that she looked forward to showing her first award, I knew she was hooked.
Taking in the sights and sounds from this new perspective made me even more proud to be associated with Special Olympics. Watching the athletes express such emotion and celebrate each other was inspiring. Just as the Special Olympics oath states, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt." I saw everyone win today, but witnessing it all unfold in front of me made me feel like the biggest winner of them all.