Soon they will descend on the local high school, the damaged people with mighty hearts, going round and round the track, my boy in the lead grasping a torch in hands that don’t know when to let go.
Yes, it’s time for the Special Olympics, spring edition, in White County. I’m not exactly sure why they do the summer Special Olympics in April here, but they do. And when Joey and his friends roll, run, throw or jump they’ll be part of a select community of more than 3.3 million athletes worldwide who take part in more than 32,000 competitions (and represent more than 220 Special Olympics programs, which are aided by more than 750,000 volunteers and 300,000 coaches). A pretty big deal, you guys.
Today’s version will have a little bit of a melancholy air, as they’re the first outdoor Games in these parts since the death last August of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics in 1968. This was a truly remarkable woman long before she became Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother-in-law.
Most of the kids competing at White County High School probably have never heard of her, but they are familiar with what she’s created. My own little boy, who sometimes seems as if he is living underwater (or he’s above water and we’re all submerged) is totally aware of what’s in store today.
His mother and I have been telling him about the Games, about his role as a torchbearer, and he’s responded like an 8-year-old. Giddy smiles, rambunctious fancy body moves, loud chattering in his bedroom at 3 in the morning because he was too excited to sleep. The biggest difference between Joey and most other 8-year-old athletes with an exciting day ahead is that he took his breakfast of champions directly into his stomach through a G-tube. And he savored every drop.
For any parent of a Special Olympian, this is an emotional time. And it’ll be the same for me, a man with conflicting expressive tides in his Sicilian veins, with operatic melodrama in his gene pool. I’ll try to keep my vision clear because we want the pictures. But I make no promises. Beautiful things have been known to render blurry, grateful tears.