One of the most inspiring aspects of Special Olympics, inherently woven into the fabric of the games, is summed up perfectly and succinctly in the athlete oath—something which sports writer Mike Guardabascio has called, “The perfect athletic credo for all human beings.”
—Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.
Those words are spoken at the beginning of every single Special Olympics competition and the most important of those words is not “win”, nor is it “brave.”
The fundamental underpinning of all sports—all sports—is the attempt. Everywhere you looked during this year’s Summer Games at Harvard, there were scenes of athletes attempting to win, attempting to break records, attempting to outdo their personal best… and yes, attempting to finish the race, attempting to even just enter the pool, and athletes simply attempting to make an attempt.
The beauty of the Special Olympics Athletes Oath is that it perfectly reflects the purity and inclusiveness of the games themselves. It’s no wonder then, that the applause for the last place finisher in events is often equal to, if not greater than first place. As spectators and fans of sports, we admire staggering feats of athleticism and marvel at dazzling come-from-behind wins. But in the eyes of the tired athlete we find ourselves, and in the struggle to simply cross the finish line we find inspiration.
Athlete Marc Griliches wrote to us before the games saying, “I will be very excited, happy and pleased if I win a gold medal and a silver medal, but my track coach John said to me a long time ago that he does not care if I win at all as long as I have a great time and do my best. That’s all that counts.”
In his column on Special Olympics, Guardabascio goes on to write, “Even in a team sport, truly great athletes are competing with themselves, with their own physical limits and boundaries. And the Special Olympians have limits, yes, some of which are staggering. But there has never been an athlete who didn’t wish they were faster, or stronger.”
Harvard Stadium seemed like a hallowed temple of sport over the weekend. President Theodore Roosevelt was in office when it first broke ground and opened in 1903. Speaking in Paris in 1910, Roosevelt would give his “Citizens in a Republic” speech, where he stated, “…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming…”
Standing in the shadows of that iconic stadium watching the athletes compete, I thought of all the games that were played there over the century, all the athletes, great and small, that toiled in the name of sport, all their attempts at greatness, and how Special Olympians in the state of Massachusetts there that weekend, now and forever have a place in that pantheon of brave athletes, who made the attempt.