(First run then chips)
It was about a year and a half ago and our local chapter of Special O was getting ready to shut down its regular activities. For us it meant that there was one less event for Hannah to attend during her week. While athletics is not her “strong suit” (aka not athletic at all) she thoroughly enjoyed Special O and somehow was oblivious to the noises and other sensory issues that normally would intimidate her.
As the track team would carry on meeting Monday nights I was encouraged by the coaches that Hannah should give track and field a try. It seemed … I cannot even say a “pie in the sky” dream. More like a “bakery in the sky” dream. But because I am always quite desperate to have appropriate events for Hannah … I mean ….because we saw athletic potential in her we decided to carry on with training for the track team.
And when I say “start training” I mean really to start training. Hannah did not know how to run. Hannah could not even walk at a brisk pace for the most part. Her run consisted of a one step forward, followed by a hop on the foot, then a step back and a jump up and down. Depending on what was happening there may or may not be some hair caressing and finger flicking. There. That was her run.
But we practiced. Anyone who worked with her helped her practice walking and running at the track Starting off very slowly and starting off with the early years ABA of a 16 piece jelly bean. (long story). Bit by bit she made gains at that particular track we practiced on.
When the date of the track meet came (last year) we were so anxious. She would be publicly placed at the U of M track for all to see. She would be asked to run from a gun shot (the least likely tool that would encourage Hannah to run). What would happen? Would this be a Hallmark afterschool movie where Hannah would miracously learn to run and win the race?
Let’s just go with “no”. The gun shot and the other two runners took off. Hannah stood there playing with her hair. As the crowd cheered and cheered she eventually started to run, crossed all lanes, stopped plenty of times, walked to the official (who was saying “over here Hannah” which she took literally) and argued with everyone as we pointed to the finish line. Lots of room for improvement. But we were so proud!
So track and field practice this year – we. were. ready!! She had “done it” once before and we had our diving board to jump off of. But something was different. Hannah wanted. to. run. We went to the track and we saw a willingness and an excitement that we never expected. When I lie-ingly told her the people who were cheering for the baseball game where cheering for her she beamed and flipped her hair! Together we thanked the crowd (thank you baseball crowd). Her workers took her running and poured on the charm. “Hannah I love how your hair flows in the wind when you run” and so forth was the new 16 piece jelly bean. It really takes a village.
She trained and did so well we decided to enroll her in an additional race – the 50 m and the 100 m.
The day of the track meet came. We were less hands on in terms of her care than last year. Only verbally sending her on the bus (while we followed behind in our car). Allowing the coaches to take her here and there. We were spectators. This only really hit me later when I stopped watching her shot put and chose to watch our team members in a race. How independent she had become over a year. Others where able to take care of things.
When the time for her race came we sat in the bleachers and again verbally told Hannah to go with her coaches. We beamed with pride and a little anxiousness as we saw our petite daughter walk on the field with the racers.
The gun shot and Hannah went. There was no hop, skip, jump and caress hair “run”. She ran. Slowly. But she ran from beginning to end! She ran so well (for her) that she could have passed a runner once or twice. But we never thought of that! (Goals for next year). She ran from beginning to end, stayed (mostly) in her lane and did not argue with anyone during the race!
The atmosphere at Special O is heavenly. There is no judgment and a consistent flavour of cheering for all and accepting without exception. Whether you run 800 m and lap your competitors or whether you cross all lanes and play with your hair…. everyone is a winner.
We left the track meet and slowly morphed into “regular world”. Where Hannah and those like her need to fit in. It always saddens me when we leave our safe world. Hannah piped up in the back seat of the car. “Thank you for the running”. Thank you for the running? From teaching her one and a half years ago to this. So many gains and renewed energy on if she did THIS what else could she accomplish? Thank you Special O.