By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day last Saturday out at the Nike Campus for the 2012 Special Olympics Youth Games. When the opening ceremonies start with: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” — the Special Olympics motto — you know you’re in for an incredible experience.
About 500 children participated in this year’s Special Olympic Youth Games half-day event, which was created in 2007 as a way to introduce intellectually disabled children and their families to the Special Olympics. Participants competed in basketball, soccer, track and field, swimming, and unified soccer before ending the day with an awards ceremony and lunch.
I was thrilled to be one of many volunteers assigned to the basketball event, where participants not only had a fantastic time competing in each clinic but were being led by none other than the University of Portland Men’s basketball team and three-peat Olympic Gold Medalist Misty May-Treanor. The UP men and May-Treanor were incredible with the athletes, making each one feel important and able — laughing, playing, and even putting on slam dunk shows to entertain at one point.
May-Treanor, the most successful female beach volleyball player in both domestic and international competition and one-half of the Olympic record-setting beach volleyball team, was enjoying every minute. A longtime supporter of the Special Olympics, May-Treanor has served on the Special Olympics Board of Governors and is currently a Special Ambassador.
“I think that we’re all Olympians, maybe on different levels,” May-Treanor said when I asked what drew her to the Special Olympics. “These kids inspire me. I feel that as a person you can always become better and today I’m leaving a better person than when I arrived here this morning. And I think that goes for everybody because you see the kids and the parents, what they deal with on a daily basis, what they struggle with, and you’re helping these kids and giving them the attention but in turn they’re giving you a better gift of just the joy of the now.”
This was my first experience volunteering at the Special Olympics and I couldn’t agree more. The positive energy and feelings of acceptance, encouragement, and belonging were palatable. It’s unimaginable that anyone — be they a volunteer, participant, friend, or family — could walk away without being changed.
“When you see the kids smile and having fun, and I think it’s more the parents’ reaction that makes me know that this is such a wonderful thing,” May-Treanor said. “… I think it’s just the look on the parent’s face because for once their kids are just involved, not looked at in a different manner.”
For more information about Special Olympics go to www.soor.org.