I’m not your typical Soccer Mom and Henry isn’t your typical Soccer player. In fact, I’m not even your typical Special Olympics Soccer Mom, and Henry definitely isn’t your typical Special Olympian.
Henry was 6 or 7 when we started Special Olympics. We only started because the coach bugged me. I am not a sports person. I’m a theater person. I never played team sports and I had very little interest in getting my child involved. I didn’t want to go to practices, I didn’t want to get up early and drive 30 miles to Apopka on a Saturday morning, and I didn’t want to own a fold out chair. But Coach kept at me, “Get Henry into Special Olympics.” I asked her straight up, “What’s he going to do, host?” “I promise you, he loves it.”
So off we went to our first competition, track & field. We drove 30 miles. I didn’t get a camp chair. The kids ran the 50 yard dash with a helper at the finish line holding their favorite item — a bag of cheetos, a People magazine, a bag of M&Ms. Henry’s helper held a DVD case. On your mark, get set, go! And they were off, hyper-focused on their goodies, except Henry. His body was running down his lane, but his face was turned to the cheering crowd. He was on fire! We were jumping up and down and screaming like crazy. He ran all the way to the finish line where Mr. Eric was waving his favorite Disney DVD. And he stopped, right before the line, then he turned and waved to the crowd. Mr. Eric was screaming. We were screaming. CROSS THE LINE! CROSS THE LINE! The more we yelled, the more he soaked it in — standing 2 inches from the finish line, basking in the glory.
The next year, Coach Haas did get him the opportunity to host. He led the athlete's oath on a microphone and has done so off and on for years. We gave up on Track & Field for Special Olympics Bowling, Basketball Skills and Soccer Skills. That’s 3 times a year for those still counting. Some years we make it to State. Other years we enjoy our sixth place ribbon. I still have never bought a camp chair. And I admit, that on occasion I cheer for him to get 4th place so we don’t have to go on to the State level. Honestly, going to both the County and Area competitions of an elevated game of HORSE is enough, right? This attitude has earned me the title World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition.
The truth is he does love it. He loves the attention. If he’s not the chosen host, he hosts anyway, introducing his team, taking to the court or the field when there is a lull in activities, and always entertaining the parents and the volunteers. And I remain the World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition — I forget to bring water. I forget what weekend it’s on. I never have a chair. I forget sunscreen. I forget a snack. The times I remember to bring water and snacks we’re there for 20 minutes, up first, play, get our ribbon and go and I have to haul all that junk back to the car. When I forget to bring the giant cooler of treats, a magazine for me, an iPad for him, that’s when we’re inevitably there for four hours.
There are many Special Olympians that are true athletes and the passion Henry has for entertaining, they have for their sport. It’s always a pleasure to watch them in action. Henry does ok with his sport and he’s gotten better every year. But here’s the thing about Special Olympics that I didn’t expect. He loves the competition. All the kids do. It does something to them. Their energy changes. Their focus increases. Their passion gets channelled. They work together as a team. They work to best their own performance. I had no idea that team sports would do this for Henry but it has. He’s grown as a person, his disability has been challenged and his character developed. And sometimes he gets to host. Now to entertain myself and Henry while we wait his turn, we create live streaming videos where he turns soccer skills into a Million Dollar Tournament. This keeps me from being the worst soccer mom on the field and enables me to maintain my title World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition. This year, not only did he do videos, host, and hand out a trip to Jamaica but he played really well. He got a blue ribbon and first place in his division. Yay! State Competition here we come…