Why The Olympics Are So “Special!”

“I’ve always seen the Olympics as a place where you could act out your differences on the athletic field with a sense of sportsmanship and fairness and mutual respect.”  ~ Andrew Young

We spent our morning at the Macomb County Special Olympics Local Games watching our son Zeb participate in several events. This was the second year he participated in the Special Olympics and it was a thrill for all of us.


Zeb has always enjoyed athletic events. He has played basketball, baseball, done wrestling, played tennis, and enjoys long walks on the beach — oh no, we’ll save that one for another website. Anyway, being home schooled until he was 18-years-old, he was never involved in the Special Olympics. Since enrolling in a work-based school, however, he has had the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful activity.

Although the Olympics are set up so everyone “wins” there are still various levels that each participant can attain. There is a White Participation Ribbon, a Yellow Third Place Ribbon, a Red Second Place Ribbon, and the highly coveted Blue First Place Ribbon. I say highly coveted, but truth be known, many of the participants are thrilled just to compete and finish the events they are competing in. Zeb is quite competitive however and strives for those Blue Ribbons as if they were “gold.”

The first event he participated in was the softball throw. Broken down by age groups, he fell in the 16 – 21-year-old group. In order to get a Blue Ribbon in this group, Zeb had to throw the softball at least 25 feet. Last year he had thrown it 32 feet and gotten a Blue Ribbon; this year he threw it 50 feet. Marked improvement. Although he won the Blue Ribbon, being as competitive as he is, he was a little disappointed that he did not throw it as far as one of his friends — so he thought. When we asked how far Jacob had thrown the ball, he too had thrown his 50 feet. Blue Ribbons all around.

The Softball Throw

The Softball Throw

The other two events that Zeb participated in were the 100 and 50 meter dashes. Last year we had a problem with these events. For running events three participants are selected at random and race against each other, winning first, second, and third according to how they cross the finish line.  Zeb started off running full force, but as he pulled away from the other runners, he slowed down until they caught up to him, and nearly lost.  After the  race we pulled him aside and asked him why he had slowed down. He told us that he did not want the other racers to be mad at him if he beat them — such a kind heart. After explaining to him that they would not be angry (we hoped) he went back out there and ran the next race full force and won.

This year, being a somewhat seasoned veteran, Zeb knew to run as fast as he could. We hoped that he would be as successful this year as last, but the luck of the draw was not with him. When he was selected for the 100 meter dash, he was paired against a young man smaller and younger than him and another young man who was probably three feet taller and quite agile. Needless to say, the tallest man one first with Zeb a very close second. He was disappointed. This was his first experience not winning a Blue Ribbon.

Even with us telling him that he had done excellent under the circumstances, not until his friend Luke raced and also got a Second Place Red Ribbon, did he feel better. Competition is fierce at any level of athletics but there is something to be said for “misery loves company.” Not that he was miserable, but he certainly was not as elated as he had been with the Blue Ribbon he’d gotten for the softball throw.

The final event, the 50 meter dash, we anxiously waited to see who he would be paired up against. One of the boys was about the same size as Zeb, the other a little smaller. Zeb crouched down into his starting position and when the gun went off, he tore down the track. Quickly he pulled away from the other runners and crossed the finish line in first place with his arms raised high above his head. We cheered and sang praises, but they fell upon deaf ears. Zeb had turned around, gone back to the finish line and met the other two racers as they crossed it giving them high-fives and congratulations as they finished.

Zeb's 2014 Ribbons

Zeb’s 2014 Ribbons

That is why the Olympics are so “Special” and for this I am — Simply Grateful.


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