Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Special Olympics World Winter Games: A-go-go

Covering the Special Olympics World Winter Games for the Statesman was a whirlwind — wrangling press passes, weathering high decibel youth rallies, dodging the assignment that loomed, to interview Olympic skater Scott Hamilton about his eight rules for good living (rule number two: heed the "Almighty Coach!")
But it was heartening, too.
I wrote a couple times about the McCollum family from Illinois. I met them on the first day of competition, and again on the last, after Susan McCollum, their daughter/niece/sister had won the bronze medal for figure skating. The McCollums all wore sweatshirts with iron-on images of Susan in her skating costume.
Seven relatives made it out to Idaho to don the sweatshirt, and watch her compete. Her dad had shot about 17,000 hours of video at the rink and was looking forward to inflicting it on his relatives and friends back home. "They better like movies," he told me.
You have to love that kind of family affection, Special Olympics or not.
It reminded me of something from my own family that still kind of chokes me up.
My brother used to be a serious cyclist. My parents drove all over hell-and-gone, a.k.a. every cardio-crunching elevation in Idaho to watch his races. This generally meant standing on a roadside in the sun, or sometimes the wind, for hours, only to catch a glimpse of the pack as it passed and disappeared around a bend. Not a spectator-friendly sport, is what I'm saying.
But they'd go anyway. One of them would even run out into the road to slip my brother a bottle of water, or a banana to put in that zippered compartment in the back of his jersey as he sped by, usually in a foul mood.
With giant events like the World Games, I worry that they will also come and be gone. I don't know if the games changed anyone's perception of other people.
I don't know if organized events ever create change.
The visit of the Dalai Lama to Sun Valley back in 2005 had the same effect on me. A discomfort with the mass movement for "goodness."
Everybody wore matching scarves then, too, as you'll recall. White ones, blessed by his holiness himself rather than a fleet of world-wide knitters.
I still have an image seared in my memory, all those rows of people, including me, mind you, in sunglasses and scarves, and those rubber Lama bracelets made, unfortunately, in China, taking in that easily digested message of compassion — or what I like to call, "Lama lite."
I'm suspicious of giant happenings, especially those with professionally designed logos, that continually insist that they're life-changing, and give too many knob heads the chance to congratulate themselves on their great humanitarianism.
I just don't know.
I do know that I liked what Evelyn Grime, mother of Kaitlyn, a six-year-old who has Down syndrome, said when I met her at Young Athletes, a Special Olympics program that gets little kids interested in sports.
Grime said she appreciated that the games were raising the curtain on families like hers that live, and thrive, with children with developmental disabilities.
"It's nice to have this attention," Grime said, "We've been here all along."

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