Have you ever wanted to do something for a long time and then you finally have the opportunity to do just that?
Then the “big” day arrives and somehow it doesn’t turn out to be like you thought?
I have that feeling when I go out to eat at a restaurant because once the meal arrives at the table it never looks quite like the pictures did in the menu.
You may not know this about me, but I have always (always) wanted to work as a volunteer during a Special Olympics event. I think that is about as worthwhile endeavor as you could be a part of and I personally think that all those folks intimately involved in putting on such events have a special place in heaven waiting for them.
What I knew about the Special Olympics came mostly from watching several of the events on television.
So imagine my surprise when a call went out for “volunteers” on the base I was stationed at in Florida for an upcoming Regional Special Olympics event.
I couldn’t be more excited
In fact I was so excited that I “recruited” other Marines and Sailors to go along with me as volunteers
I also recruited the Marines and Sailors wives, girlfriends, love monkeys and or concubines for the event
(It’s my power of persuasion)
This was going to be a great day
We all showed up at the local athletic field at the appointed time and found the sign in sheet for the volunteers. There were hundreds and hundreds of athletes and their parents there as well as a large number of would be volunteers like us.
The Special Olympians and their parents and friends were a joy and a sight to see.
And let me say this
If you have never seen (in person) the opening ceremonies of a Special Olympic event, you need too.
Simply put, it is one of the most awe inspiring events you will ever witness in your life
When the athletes recite the “Special Olympian Creed”
“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”
It will inspire you
It will humble you
It will make you cry and cry hard, I promise you
If that isn’t enough to pull at your heart strings, then they have the “Parade of Athletes” with all the respective athletes and some of their parents, as they walk around the track once as they wave American flags and wave at the crowd, it is truly something you need to experience.
It will make you proud to be alive on planet earth.
After wiping tears from our eyes and blowing our noses we all walked over to where the volunteers for the event were to report after the opening ceremony.
The Director of the event called my name and asked if I brought all these volunteers and I said that I did
Without much ceremony the Director said
“Why don’t you and your volunteers here run the women’s events?”
I kind of stumbled and said that we just came to volunteer and that I didn’t really know what to do
“No problem” he said and with a few quick instructions, I realized that other than with a few special considerations on the events themselves this was just like being in a high school or college track meet.
So with that the organizers passed us a few stop watches, a whistle and a clip board and we were off to start the women’s track events.
In case you don’t know how these events work, let me give you a quick guide
In a women’s Special Olympic track event the “volunteer” women (preferably two women) will be assigned to a particular special athlete to assist with getting them to the starting line while encouraging them and giving them a hug before they begin and wishing them “good luck”. The volunteers are also there to assist the special athlete “if” needed to get them on their way in the race.
At the end of the race other women volunteers are at the finish line to hug the athlete and to congratulate them on finishing the race.
I was really (really) glad that I encouraged the Marines and Sailors significant others to attend or I would have been in trouble here. This was going to work out perfectly.
Once we made our way to the side of the track designated for the women’s events our group of volunteers quickly became organized as I announced to the group of athletes, family and volunteers
“It’s time to get ready for the women’s fifty meter dash; we will begin in fifteen minutes”
Everyone was gathered around and the ten or so women special athletes were stretching and loosening up as the volunteers and I made the assignments of “who” went with “who”.
It was then that this woman and I do mean woman or Amazon woman more accurately walked up and announced to me loudly in no uncertain terms “I am the CHAMPION here, I have won the race every year and I go to the STATE finals EVERY year and I am the Champion!”
Good Lord, this “special” athlete was about six feet two inches tall and her feet must have been size 16.
I am not kidding either
Other than a slightly slurred speech there didn’t seem to be anything “special” about this athlete other than the fact she looked like a “real” Olympic sprinter.
Hell, she was even wearing track spikes.
The only thing I could muster was a cheery “Well good for you, I’m sure you will do well today”
Which she responded with “I won’t do WELL, I am GOING to WIN!”
O.k. she was a little scary at this point (I’m serious) but fortunately the Marines and Sailors female significant others took over and got the Amazon runner to begin warming up for the event.
It was then that I saw “her”
She was getting ready to warm up before the event with her parents at her side assisting her
She was maybe five foot two and she had more than a few physical problems with her legs and arms
But that wasn’t what caught my attention
This little girl had on an “official” University of Alabama Track and Field warm-up suit
I walked over to her and introduced myself to her and her parents and asked her where she got her University of Alabama Track suit.
Speaking slowly and with some difficulty she said
“I was a guest at the University of….Alabama and….The Women’s Track Team…..they gave…it to me…..”
I knew my University did a lot of things for “special” people, but this really impressed me
I told her that the University of Alabama was “my” school and I thought that it was awesome that she had that “official” track suit from the University.
With a beaming smile that would light a small city she said….
“The Women…on the Alabama track….team…they trained me…and helped me…..and told me to work hard. I was there at a special school for two weeks. I love them”
Gosh almighty I thought I was going to cry right there
Before they could see me breakdown I shook her little hand and told her good luck
That was when she really got me….
With that smiling face and slow speech she said….
I could barely return the greeting without my voice breaking
Now I want to make something perfectly clear here
I KNOW that as a judge or a referee or in this case being in charge of the women’s track events at the Florida Region One Special Olympics that you are supposed to be unbiased.
And I was unbiased
But that doesn’t mean in my heart, that I wasn’t pulling for “my” little girl in the Alabama track suit.
Because I was, I admit it
That aside it was time to start the Women’s 50 Meter race…..
My Lady Volunteers (God Bless them….)
They had the athletes at the starting line and all the appropriate hugs and encouragement had taken place and now it was time to begin the race
The ten competitors were at the starting line
I was a second away from saying….”On your mark…
The Amazon woman in the middle lane was berating a little runner next to her loudly with…
“I AM the CHAMPION! YOU get in MY way and I will RUN over YOU!”
I thought the little girl was going to cry
So we suspended the start of the race for a few minutes while we calmed the little girl down and my lady volunteers “attempted” to tell the Amazon woman “not to talk like that”
This kind advice was met by the Amazon with a wagging finger in the face of my lady volunteers and a loud “I LIKE TO TRASH TALK! I AM THE CHAMPION! I CAN DO THAT IF I WANT TOO!”
Good Lord, where the heck were this giant’s parents?
(Now I will also admit here, that “yes” I was upset that this Giant was being mean to a little girl, but I have to say that if she had said that to my little “Alabama Girl” who was in the far left lane we would have had a bigger problem)
All that being said and with feelings put in check it was time to (finally) start the race…
The volunteers repeated the process of getting the runners to the starting line
It was time….
So I said in my loud “Marine” voice….
“Runners….On your Mark….Get set…..GO!”
Good LORD that six foot tall Amazon woman was GONE………….
In one second she was ten yards down the track while others were struggling to cross the starting line
All except my little “Alabama Girl”….although not very quick and not what could be described as fast, she was nonetheless across the starting line and moving her gaunt little legs as fast as she could.
The Amazon Woman was streaking down the track….
Nobody was even close….
Except for the little girl in the Alabama track suit who although wasn’t catching the Amazon woman….
She was gaining on her, little by little….
At the forty yard mark the Amazon was slowing down and looking behind her to see who was close…
That was all the time the little girl in the Alabama track suit needed…
With her arms moving like pistons beside her and with a look of determination she willed her gaunt, twisted little legs to move faster, faster, faster
When the Amazon realized that she “might” be passed on the track, it was too late
I hit the stop watch as the little girl with the University of Alabama track suit crossed the finish line a scant hundred of a second ahead of the Amazon runner.
I was momentarily caught up in the euphoria of the event with everyone else as I watched the female volunteers hug the little girl in the Alabama track suit.
He parents ran onto the track crying….
I heard the smiling little girl say “I told you….I could do it…..I have faith!”
The reason I mention I was caught up in the excitement of the little girl with the Alabama track suit winning is because I didn’t notice what was happening in the center of the track.
Although I should have, it was loud enough for EVERYONE to hear….
Even in the parking lot I was told
As the Amazon woman crossed the finish line….
The female volunteers assigned to the Amazon “attempted” to give her a hug, as they did each and every other contestant in the race, the difference here was it was met with a loud (and I do mean LOUD)
“DON’T F*&^%$# TOUCH ME! YOU F*&^%$# CHEATERS!”
The Amazon runner said, or should I say screamed this out repeatedly as she swung her arms in a more or less windmill fashion to either hit those around her and or to keep anyone from touching her.
If the Amazon hadn’t of been so loud, this would have been even funnier
My poor female volunteers didn’t know what to do or how to calm the situation down
And frankly neither did I
What are you supposed to do when you have a full blown melt down with a Special Olympian?
“DON’T F*&^%$# TOUCH ME! YOU F*&^%$# CHEATERS!”
She was screaming this on a loop and looking angrier and angrier with each passing minute
And now she had her track spikes in her hands and was waving them and screaming…
(It was at this point that I was praying none of us had to tackle her)
As you might imagine the ongoing commotion got the “attention” of the Event
Who along with his staff came to our location to enquire “what the problem was”
I explained the situation over the cussing, track shoe waving Amazon in the middle of the track
With a concerned look the Director said to me
“I understand, but her (The wild eyed foul mouthed Amazon) parents don’t think the race was fair”
I look dumbfounded
In fact for a change I was actually speechless
He then went on to say….
“Her parents are protesting the results of the race and ah…..”
In the brief pause in the conversation I snapped back to reality for a minute and asked the Director
“And Ah what?”
“Well, I don’t know how to put this, but her parents think you cheated”
My friends I have been accused of many things in this life….
Some rightly so and others unjustly
But I have NEVER (EVER) been accused of “fixing” a Special Olympics race…
As I attempted to explain to the Director that he could talk to any and all of my volunteers to ensure the race was ran according to all the appropriate protocols and rules, the Amazon’s parents appeared to have momentarily calmed the cussing behemoth in the center of the track.
But the giantess still didn’t look happy
(Where the heck were the parents when she began this Chernobyl Cussing meltdown?)
As the Director and his staff began the interrogations of my Marines and Sailors and their female counterparts on the results of the race it was time for the medal presentation of the Women’s 50 Yard dash.
The little girl with the Alabama track suit was beaming…..
Her parents had to help her on top of the medal stand and they too were smiling.
You could feel how proud they were of their little girl, she was the Champion
The third place finisher took her place on the stand too….
Where was the Amazon?
There was a short meeting of the volunteers that were responsible for the medal presentation and I overheard them say that “the second place finisher refused to take the stand and receive the silver medal”
(What the heck? Was the Amazon runner Romanian?)
The medal presentation proceeded and might I say it was beautiful
But the best part of the medal presentation came at the end…..
When the little girl with the Alabama track suit enquired where the “other girl was”
When she was told that “The second place finisher didn’t want the second place medal”
The little girl with the gaunt and twisted legs in the Alabama track suit said…
“She…… can have… mine…… if it will make her feel better”
That my friend’s is a true Champion
Now believe it or not…..
After the medal ceremony…..
(And the results of the race went in the record books by the way or I might have had my own meltdown)
I and my group of volunteers were “switched” with the volunteers from the Men’s Field events
This was done in an effort to satisfy the parents of the foul mouthed whirling dervish Amazon who was now “too upset” to run in any other races, according to the Director of the event.
So we all walked over to the “other” side of the track to the area of the Men’s Field events…
As the instructions and the transfer of tape measures for stop watches took place
I noticed a young special athlete setting on a chair….
He was about five foot ten and around three hundred or so pounds….
He was about as big around as he was tall, but he was powerfully built
His head was shaved and he set there on his stool with a quite look of determination
I asked him how he was doing as all the transfer’s of gear and instructions took place amongst my volunteers and the folks heading to the women’s track events.
“Good” he said without ever looking at me
I asked him what events he was in…..
He more or less grunted the words “Shot Put”
Trying to be encouraging, I said….
“I bet you are really good”
Then he turned his huge shaven head ever so slightly towards me and grunted through clenched teeth
“I AM and IF I don’t win, I’m going to F*&^%$# KILL somebody”
“O.k. great, well it was sure nice talking with you….”
Fortunately that young man could REALLY throw the shot put and no fatalities took place
But I have to say that I couldn’t believe what I experienced that day
I wasn’t expecting some foul mouth rant from an Amazon trash talking Special Olympian or to have to consider an operational backup plan for tazering a hulk of a human being who just happened to be a shot putter in the Special Olympics.
I certainly never saw any of those “episodes” on television I promise you that….
So things aren’t always what they appear, I should have known better
But even at the time I thought that Amazon’s meltdown was pretty funny, and even though I was “accused” of “fixing” a Special Olympics race (Which in case you were wondering is a personal record of sorts that has yet to be eclipsed for me; Thank God) It was a day which I still laugh about.
What’s the moral to this story?
I’m not sure there is one
I could say a word or two about the parents of the cussing windmill of an Amazon
About how they are raising or nor not raising their daughter to be a productive member of society
I could compare the Amazon to some of the other athletes in the field that day
I could mention the end result of poor sportsmanship and trash talking
But I won’t
I would rather end the story with this….
To the little girl in the “official” University of Alabama track suit and to her supportive and loving parents