Less athletic and competitive in sports I could not be. Hannah has gained this gene from me – her father doing well in whatever sport he chooses to pick up. So when we opted in the local Special Olympics program in Altona a number of years back, I was uncertain how this would go however seeing that extracurricular activities that are appropriate for her are few and far between, we gave it a go!
Now this is not a Disney movie where Hannah’s lack of sports ability is suddenly transformed in slow motion as she enters the Special O gates. No – Hannah is Hannah and nothing has been magically transformed (because we simply believe dreams comes true). But rather fun work with her worker/s and the rest of the AMAZING Special O coaches. Working together as a team to have Hannah participate as much as she can – knowing her limits and pushing her ooooohhh just a tad above! (As we do with everything).
It was spring of last year. The regular Special O was complete. The track and field team continued on practicing all their events. We knew that Hannah and her (lack of) athletic abilities paired with inability to go with the flow (on her own) would not be a match for the track and field team. So sadly she was done for the season. I was speaking to one of her coaches during this time and she was wondering why we had not enrolled Hannah on the track team? How sweet, I thought. Hannah is invited to, like, everything in Special O. But ya, nooooo, not a match. The coach did not accept my reasons as to why we chose to not move Hannah on in this case and gently said “I think she can do it next year.”
If anyone knows me knows that if there is a glimmer of hope I am ON IT!
So the next spring practiced. First of all we had to consider whether or not Hannah would be able to withstand the pressure of being centre stage, and all the noises that would accompany a track meet. Hannah is hypo sensitive, meaning she feels things too much – every step, every breathe, every thought, every word is accentuated. Beyond belief for me. So this explains her uber-slowness. When she is excited she cannot run towards what excites her but rather she shuts down – hugging herself and cowering her head to her chest, maybe jumping up and down. So running? Yea … not in the cards for this hypo sensitive autism girl. And running was the first thing we targeted. Heading out the the high school track and getting her to accomplish twice around the track running and walking when necessary. Paired with skittles (throw back to the beginning of ABA sans cutting into eight pieces) and a CAN DO attitude we ran and walked the track. Did she love the practice? No not all the time but somehow she knew it was for Special O and so she persevered.
Suddenly a monkey wrench appeared. I re-read the details of the qualifying papers. “Must be able to run the 50 meters in 30 seconds or less” I read. Emphasis on “I read”. Sadly I reported to the Special O head coach that hey it didn’t look like Hannah would be a fit after all. 30 seconds would not be suffice. Not even in the remote realms of suffice-ness. “Oh well – we gave it a go” I thought. Glimmer of hope – vanished. I was working on the well with my soul when the head coach clarified what the paper actually said … “Must be able to run the 50 meters in 30 seconds or MORE”. After all, it was Special O – a place for those who do not run fast. This fact alone? Come on – how much more marvelous can you get?!
Mother’s day approached and with it was the qualifying track and field meet at the U of M Investor’s field. Hannah rode the bus with the other Special Olympians from Altona and Byron and I rode in our own car behind them. How wonderful it felt to have her in another vehicle without us. We sat with the track team and family and friends in the stands for the day. This was all new to all of us! When it was Hannah’s turn turn Byron and I were allowed to go with her Special O coaches down to the marshaling area. She with two other Special Olympians would run the 50 meter. I was a bundle of nerves – physically I knew she could do it but behaviorally I had no idea how it would go! She had no concept of a start line and a finish line – only what we tried to teach her during our practice! And a gun shot? Not a great way to tell my hypo sensitive girl to start running.
Hannah walked onto the field. Emotions started. SHE IS WALKING! ONTO A FIELD!! IN PUBLIC!! The Special O coaches brought her to the start line. The gun shot for the ‘go’ and the other two started running. We cheered for Hannah “RUN RUN RUN!!” Hannah started walking – crossing every lane line there was. When the Special Olympian official said to her “keep going Hannah – right over here” Hannah took it literally and walked over to the official (who was one foot away from the finish line). Then Hannah argued with us all as we encouraged her to run to the finish line where she stopped one inch before the line and argued some more. Finally she crossed the line! Really – more proud we could not all be! Was there room for improvement? Sure – But all the skills she showed that day were amazing!!
The official track and field meet was about a month away so our practice continued. The morning of the track meet came upon us and we arrived back at the U of M track field. When the 50 meters event approached I was gently let in on ‘how this would all go down’ starting with that I would stay in the stands and the Altona coaches would take her down to the marshaling area where the Special Olympic officials would take her to the start line. The fact that Hannah would be asked to go with the flow with someone other than me or trained staff was already a huge win and I had no concerns about me staying and her walking with others. Our Altona Panthers coaches have gained her trust and Hannah adores them all – so I knew she was in great hands!
As Hannah walked onto the field with the official and the other two runners I knew that our diligent work was going to pay off! And as the gun shot ‘go’ Hannah started running! Not fast but a great and steady speed for her! She ran all the way to the finish line! More proud I could not be!!
When it was time for the awards ceremony we were excited to see all of our athletes receive their medals from members of the Winnipeg Police. When it was Hannah’s turn she, without skipping a beat, went up to the stage to receive her award. It seemed like there was nothing she would not conquer this day!
All of these steps have been accomplished due to the diligent work Hannah’s team has done throughout her whole life. From the beginning stages when we taught her to point her finger to teaching her how to run. We are not an island.
The mood at any Special Olympic event is simply … heavenly. I would encourage anyone to attend a Special Olympic event if possible, or volunteer – especially those of you who are … how can I say this … extremely invested in your child’s athletic career in an “unhealthy” or “angry” way. There is cheering for everyone no matter if you are walking, crossing lines, arguing or running a 50 meter in over 30 seconds! There is a sense of acceptance, fun and pure joy that is indescribable. You will never forget it!
The Special Olympic creed is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”. Okay just typing this makes me tear up … But Hannah showed so much bravery throughout this whole process. From learning to run to running when a gun shot says go. Thank you Special Olympics – for creating a space where my child and other’s like her can shine!