I admit, I refer to it as “my flame.” Yes, I was privileged to be one of this summer’s Unified Relay Across America Torch Bearers. Though by far one of the most thrilling moments I’ve lived, while running the Flame of Hope through the streets of Astoria, Queens I realized this open fire seemed a casual curiosity to those going about the business of shopping, walking from work and wheeling the clothes to the laundromat. (Have I mentioned how heavy and REAL that torch was? I almost lit my hair on fire. Twice.) Was the symbolism of this journey apparent to those on the sidelines?
In following the progress of the Flame of Hope since I last saw it in 2011 at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, I am almost taken back by the progress that has been made. The “R-word” is fading into obscurity. The Unified Sports movement that saw my son play in its very first World Games contest in softball in 2011 is now close to one million athletes strong; thanks to a collaboration with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, social acceptance through sports is no longer simply a dream.
(Keep your eye on #11!!)
|Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum- venue for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony|
In 2015, the goals and rhetoric are loftier; attitudes have changed. Acceptance has turned to inclusion, which is now elevated to a declaration of interdependence. Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver once again addressed the 7,000 World Games athletes, conveying this message: The Special Olympics movement is the school of the heart. “Learning about the power of difference is unifying.”
|Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver|
|Tim Shriver visits the Healthy Athletes Fun Fitness tent.|
When I began working with athletes with intellectual disabilities, I was honored to help others. When I traveled to the Athens 2011 Special Olympics World Games, I was hoping to teach my son. The 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics World Games are for me; I come to learn from athletes and families that having something powerful to teach. No longer is the goal to bring those with different abilities into our world; as Temple Grandin often suggests, perhaps there is greater merit in valuing exactly what makes those with intellectual disabilities different. (Some Kind of Magic.) Tim Shriver quotes renown Special Olympian and board member Loretta Claiborne: “Come into my world. I don’t want to join yours. Mine has no war. Sports are played with the spirit of joy and exuberance and affirmation, not anger or cheating or aggression.” These are powerful words with a profound message for us “typicals!” Perhaps we should join their team and not the other way around. The illumination of these Games is ours, not that of the athletes.
“My” Flame of Hope that was ignited in the home of the last Special Olympics World Games, Athens, traveled the Atlantic Ocean, into my humble hands in New York City, crossed over 4,500 miles of this country, and ignited the Olympic Cauldron in Los Angeles Memorial Stadium lit up minds and opened hearts. Let the teachers become the students. And let’s see how many minds the Torch sparks before the next Games…