Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Special Olympics

On May 28 of this year, I got to go participate in the Utah Special Olympics.  It was absolutely amazing.

On May 27, I was talking to my boss about her son, who has finished everything he needs to finish to get his Eagle Scout award except for one merit badge, which he has been working on for several months.  It's the community service merit badge.  So she signed him up to volunteer at the Special Olympics.  As she was telling me about it, I was thinking about what an amazing experience that would be.  She said a lot of what they needed help with was just cheering in the stands or giving hugs after races.  I thought it sounded so fun!  So I decided to do it.  I was a little nervous, though.  It's hard for me to go do things like that by myself; it's very easy for me to think, "Oh, but I really need to do the laundry - I should just stay home," and then not go.  So I emailed one of my good friends from home who loves serving, because I knew it would be something she would love.  Luckily, her open time was the same as my open time!, so on May 28 we met at the stadium to do some volunteering.

After we registered, we had to read and sign some papers, promising that we wouldn't do anything inappropriate.  Then we watched a video that taught us how to be good volunteers.  It was only a few minutes long, but there were some interesting things it mentioned that Dia and I were both glad it mentioned. (Dia is the friend who went with me.)

First, that we were to encourage rules no matter what - If we let someone win by cheating, then it would teach everyone else that in order to win, they would have to cheat.  I know it sounds silly to be glad they have that rule, because why wouldn't you keep the rules?, but that was something I'd actually been thinking about earlier.  Things like, What if they have incorrect form, or someone starts just before the whistle, etc. - would someone stop them?  Maybe they don't understand the rules or would get angry.  Couldn't it potentially be worse to correct them than if we just let them slip by?  (Please forgive me for having such uneducated ideas about people who are mentally handicapped.)  That's why I was glad they mentioned that in the video.

Second, that we were to treat every participant according to their biological age, no matter their mental age.  It said that they know exactly how old they are, and it embarrasses them to be treated younger than they are.  If some participants were our elders, we were to treat them as such.  I thought that was an interesting point because I've never really known how to treat people who are mentally handicapped, so as a general rule, I just usually treat them like they're younger than they are.  (not stupid, though. just young.)  But the video said we might need to explain things in simpler terms but to still be sure and treat them respectfully.

After the video, we were assigned the task of handing out slap bracelets to participants.  (Do you remember those?  Those things are awesome!)  We met some really neat people - a woman who was there as a coach for her son; a man who was participating in one of the races; another boy who'd been sitting by himself that we went over to talk to who had a sweet ipod and all the High School Musical soundtracks:) ; and another guy named Chuck who was really cool.  For some reason, I felt a connection with Chuck.  I really liked him and really wanted to cheer for him during his race.   Anyway, then we walked around with one of the kids to see what kinds of activities they had for people who were waiting to compete.  They had pizza, dancing (on a stage!), face painting, hair dying, crafts, and some other fun things.  We met a man who was really excited to give his slap bracelet to someone else who he knew would like it, and another boy who was very good at giving hugs:)  After we had given out all but one of our bracelets, we went to get some more, but decided on the way to the bracelet table that we wanted to be Fans in the Stands instead.

At this point, there were walking races going on.  That was something we learned from the mom coach - In the Special Olympics, there are races for people of every level of ability.  They have walking races, running races, jogging races, wheelchair races - they even have walker races!  I thought that was really cool.  Anyway, so there were some walking relay races going on, and since most of the Fans in the Stands were in the stands, we decided to stand along the fence and cheer there, since that was about halfway through the race and because the runners on that part of the relay never ran by the stands.  So we were Fans in the Stands by the Fence.  It was so fun :)  The first time that they came by, I almost cried.  They would work so hard to walk quickly and then look over when they heard us cheering and smile and make eye contact with us.  I felt the Spirit so much that I was in a good place doing a good thing and that those people were great people.  It was really wonderful.

After a few races, Dia's boyfriend came and cheered with us.  Then, after a few more, they had to leave because Dia had to go to work, but I decided to stay.  There was a SUPER CUTE little girl, the smallest one on the track (I would put her at probably 6 or 7 years old) who was racing in one of the running races.  She was absolutely adorable.  She had Down's Syndrome.  After a few more races, I saw Chuck!  I'd been watching for him to line up for his race and when I saw him, I got really excited and ran over to tell him I'd be cheering for him.  He can't talk very well, and I don't think he remembered who I was from earlier, and his team didn't win, but it sure was fun to cheer for him.  After his race, I went over to the end and congratulated him, watched a few of the awards being handed out, and then decided to leave.  Joel picked me up on his way home from school.

I'm so glad I got to volunteer at the Special Olympics.  I was scared, but I shouldn't have been.  Everyone there was super friendly and nice, and the service I got to do was so fun and felt so good.  I wish I had taken a camera so I could have some pictures of it now.  Our school hosts the Special Olympics every year, though, so maybe I'll be able to take some pictures next year. :)  And, a huge shout-out/thank-you goes to Dia, without whose support and excitement it would've been hard for me to go, and I'm so glad that I did.  :)

(and I've tried several times to add cool pictures, but it's not letting me right now. Sorry. :)


Jen Bowen said...

I volunteered at a Special Olympics with YM/YW years ago. Definitely an amazing experience. I'm glad you got the guts to go. It is hard to just go volunteer for things like even though you know you'll never regret it.

Alison said...

I know! I'm so glad I got to go. :)

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