Confession time….I have broken a promise. Well sort of. While I know I said that I would be back with more tips this month, I got to volunteer with the Special Olympics this past week, and I absolutely had to share the experience with you all. But never fear! Next month, I will be back with more tips (maybe I shouldn’t promise this time though =). So without further ado, here is a reflection paper, about the Special Olympics, that I wrote for class. Enjoy!
What a truly awesome opportunity it was to be able to volunteer and help with this past Friday’s Special Olympics. Coming in to the day, I had expectations that it would be a lot of fun and that it would be a unique opportunity; however, these expectations were blown wide open on the actual day. Not only was it a ton of fun to just play with the athletes, but it was also an incredible insight into the lives of these people. Given that I was manning the basketball station, I was thankful to be able to obverse three things during the day: relationships being made, the movement capabilities of this population, and the different forms of communication used throughout the day.
Probably the best part of the whole day was the fact that I felt like, in a few short hours, I was able to form a bond with a lot of the athletes. The basketball station was very popular, and therefore I got to see a number of “regulars.” As these athletes made multiple rounds through our station, I remembered certain things about each of them and was thus able to joke around with them and talk with them about how their day was going. One of my favorite athletes was a gentleman using a power chair. Each time he came around, he would make jokes about showing us how “Jordan does it” and would make sure to point out that he would be coming back soon. Again, while it was only a few short hours, it was a true blessing to be able to share these laughs and share in the joy that these athletes experienced from doing an activity that I take for granted.
Another thing about the day that blew me away was the fact that these athletes completely destroyed my pre-conceived notions about how well they’d be able to move. I lost count of the number of athletes that made their very first shot, and a number of the younger kids were throwing down dunks that would have put Blake Griffin to shame. While there were some athletes that had more profound movement difficulties, it was really awesome to see the compensatory movement strategies that these athletes used to overcome their challenges.
Lastly, communication, both verbal and non-verbal, was another thing that I observed throughout the day. Again, while many athletes had communication difficulties, a large majority of them had adopted compensatory non-verbal communication strategies. I honestly can’t remember more than maybe one or two athletes with whom I had true communication difficulties. In addition to my communication with the athletes, seeing the athletes communicate with one another was heartwarming indeed. Given that we only had one ball, I loved seeing how willing the athletes were to share with another, and they frequently offered encouragement to whoever was shooting. Guess that just goes to show how thankful I am that this day completely got rid of some of the CLEARLY incorrect pre-conceived notions that I held about these athletes.
I know this reflection was only supposed to be 2-3 paragraphs, but the fact that I could keep writing about this day for another couple pages is a testament to how much I enjoyed the day. These athletes, despite the challenges they face, display an absolutely infectious joy for living. I think we would all do well to be mindful of their example and to remember that no challenge is big enough to take the joy out of life.