Since 1968, Special Olympics has been providing opportunities for men, women and children with mental and physical disabilities to participate in sporting events around the world. When Edward Tooley reluctantly signed up to volunteer at one of these events, he had no idea how much one young participant from that day would inspire him and continue to motivate him for many years to come. He writes about his experience in our book about volunteering and giving back. In his story, "A Very Special Special Olympian," Edward shares:
The professor was searching for student volunteers for a Special Olympics event. As the sign-up sheet went up and down the rows I started to come up with my excuses. Maybe it was the distance to the college where the event was to take place, or the early hour that volunteers had to report for duty. Whatever the reasons that made me hesitate, I am thankful to this day that I ended up volunteering. If I had missed this event I would have missed one of the most unforgettable moments that I have ever witnessed.
I arrived at the volunteer tent bright and early. My assignment was simple. I was to stand at the finish line and wait until the event was over, then take the results to the announcing booth. Standing at the finish line, I was able to witness many amazing efforts and close races. I was most impressed by the effort each athlete put into his or her event. What also impressed me was the sincere joy each athlete expressed while participating. Sometimes the joy of participating in a sporting event can get lost in the intense competition of winning and losing.
Then a miraculous moment happened right before my eyes. A group of athletes were lined up to run a short sprint. One of them was in a wheelchair, a little girl with a huge smile wearing bright bows in her hair. Her smile filled the stadium that day. I couldn't help but smile back at her.
The gun sounded. They were off. Runners sped up the track with all their might. My eyes searched for the little girl with the bright bows. There she was, pumping her arms with every ounce of energy she had. Her efforts were getting little result, but that did not stop her. I noticed as she got closer that she also had an injured arm. But that did not stop this bright star. The race was long over, but the young athlete kept pumping her arms. The crowd of spectators focused on her. They started to cheer passionately for this amazing girl. That made her pump her arms even harder!
As she neared the finish line the noise of the crowd was thunderous. There I stood cheering, with tears falling down my cheeks and chills going up my spine. I wish you could have been there to hear the roar as she passed the finish line.
After all these years, I can still hear those cheers. I wish I could thank that remarkable athlete for what her efforts taught this unmotivated college guy. I grew up a lot that day because of the tenacity of that little girl in the wheelchair. I was reminded that day of a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes that states, "Whatever you do, do it with all your might."
I wasn't making the most of the abilities and talents so graciously bestowed upon me, so whenever I get that lazy bug that buzzes in and out of my life, I remember the heroic athlete with the bows in her hair and the joy in her heart.