Olympic gold for civility goes to…
What I said in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin this week:
HOME PLACE: Olympic gold for civility goes to …
We’re in the final heat of the Olympics Summer Games that may well be known, eventually, as Summer Whiner Games. From athletes to fans, there was enough kvetching, sarcasm and belly-aching on twitter and Facebook to mark this the official “Year of the Cry Babies.”
Every detail came under fire, from how NBC decided coverage, what sports were in and what sports were out, how judges judged, tape delays and blah, blah, blah.
I was actually at a summer Olympic event earlier this year. Guess what I heard there? Not one single whine, even when there were delays between events and lunch wasn’t exactly what the athletes were expecting. No whining.
It was June and a little chilly and threatening rain. These Olympians didn’t care at all. They looked for friends to hug, high-fived each other and laughed out loud. A lot.
This was not my first Special Olympics. I’ve gone plenty of times to support my late brother, Dwight, including being at the very first Special Olympics event in Walla Walla. This was in the late 1960s and the concept was a radical idea — define how America would treat its intellectually-disabled athletes and do so with dignity and honor.
I was just coming into my teens years and the time period siblings of a developmentally-disabled person go through — deep embarrassment at our brother or sister’s idiosyncrasies and worry that everyone is staring.
But watching my big brother long jump? That ended my self-absorption in how Dwight appeared to others. Because other people were acting like he was an Olympian. That boy could leap.
More than four decades later, I watched my daughter, Martha Stewart, Jr., attend her first track and field games. MSJ is developmentally disabled, and it took her awhile to hold hands with the fact. She was utterly uninterested in Special Olympics until last year. Until she discovered that her boyfriend and her best friend participated. Then my kid couldn’t get to bowling fast enough.
She loved it. Every second of it. Finally she could relax around her peers. Everyone on the team struggles with something and nobody whines about it.
The big day rolled around. Our athlete bounded away to be with her beloved teammates, while we — the chopped liver crew — found seats on the bleachers.
We watched event after event. From young teens to the middle-aged, participants tried and succeeded again and again. I’m not going to say there were no tears — there were, but those crying sucked it up, wiped their eyes and moved on. To the finish line, no matter how late they were.
No one stomped their feet, no one tweeted their outrage, no one called anyone else naughty names. They did the job they came for. For that, they got a medal around their neck and dozens of hugs. (Note to Olympic Game officials: hire professional huggers and you’ll never look back.)
And Martha Stewart, Jr. was no exception. She did her very best, ran faster than I have ever seen her run, and came in first in her 200 meter dash. I was down on the field in a New York minute to hug, exclaim and snap pictures as she received her medal. Camo Man and Miss Tall and Blond were equally impressed.
That in itself would be enough for any mom. There’s more, of course.
We thought we understood this gold medal would be currency for going to the state Special Olympics in July. We dreamed big for several days and starting planning around the trip to Newburg.
Then we heard the bad news — official policy stated that new athletes don’t go to state their first year.
I’m not sure why. The coaches said something about not overwhelming people with all the noise and crowds. I stopped listening as I tried to figure out how to break the news to my girl. Plus, I was maybe a little mad and ready to fight.
It’s what I do, this advocacy thing. It’s a gene I inherited from my grandmother and it’s seldom pretty.
Martha’s coach snuffed this year’s Olympic torch the next Monday. My baby came home with the sad eyes we’ve seen on television this week, of glory gained then lost. “But Miss Johnson said I could still go and practice.”
Something happened to me at that moment. Somehow I chewed the fiery words at the tip of my tongue and swallowed them. I did not counsel my child to petition to go to state, I did not tell her we should ask to see the official policy in writing.
“So, Honey, that sounds like a great way to support your team. What are you going to do?” Those were the words that came out instead.
Martha shrugged, still mopey for the moment, and wandered off to dump her track gear in the laundry.
Without me reminding her, which should be an Olympic event in itself.
I was wiping cheese shreds off the counter when she meandered into the kitchen to lean casually against the counter. “I guess I can still go to practice and help my team,” Martha said. “I guess I can go to state next year.”
No whining. No Facebook post. No tweet. Only honor. That’s my girl.