Special Olympics Massachusetts Unified partner Kim Bauser writes about competing with GMPI (Greater Marlboro Programs, Inc.) Unified track and field.
“We’re going to need you to run a time trial for the 400 meter.” This was about fifteen minutes into my first practice, and my first direct experience with Special Olympics ever. I was still taking in the warm welcome and warm-up stretches. And, to be honest, I was already overwhelmed and more than a little nervous, with more than a decade between me and the last time I’d tried to run a quarter-mile “fast.”
I’d thought I was signing up to be a running buddy, or a jog-along cheerleader for the athletes, whom I would gladly encourage, positive and smiling all the way, feeling great about myself for this good thing I was doing. Instead, I was the athlete, and I was trying not to dry heave as I all but crawled across the finish line. My fellow athletes were the ones smiling and cheering me on. Humbling barely begins to describe. (And that was before I tried to throw the turbo javelin.)
I had joined the GMPI track team as a Special Olympics Unified partner. Invited by a friend, I had no prior training or qualifications, and I clearly had little idea what I was getting myself into or the impact it would have on me. My humbling experience, as it turned out, had barely begun.
As we gathered for the state competition in June, I was humbled by the coaches and volunteers who give and have given of their time and energy selflessly, some for years and even decades. I was humbled by the caretakers, families and other loved ones who were there and, in many cases, are always there, to accompany and applaud their children, siblings or friends. These individuals’ commitment to their athletes, families and communities certainly put my lap or two around the track to shame.
But even more than any of those, I was humbled by my fellow athletes, my new friends. Having been instantly welcomed into the sisterhood of several of the women on the team, I got to run and cheer alongside them and all our athletes. They encouraged our teammates, as well as friends from other teams. They celebrated more than a few wins, but congratulated every effort with the same sincerity and enthusiasm. Our athletes loved competing. Two of the women even ran an extra “demonstration” mile — just for fun! As I struggled through my events, they hollered and applauded and spoke to me the very pep talks I had expected to speak to them. They told me to do my best and “be brave in the attempt,” and modeled the same. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a track meet!
Humbled as I was, I was an athlete in Special Olympics. And I have never been more proud to be a part of a team.