Angels and Olympians
An olympian was laid to rest yesterday. His name was Troy, and he was born the same year, 1968, that Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics. Troy was a Special Olympian from the age of 5, until his death at age 43. He was an angelic exemplar of the victorious spirit that has defined the Special Olympics since its inception.
First, about Troy. Troy was born with Down’s Syndrome and was the emotional and intellectual equivalent of a young child, though physically a middle-aged man. His mother remarked at his memorial service that his little nephews and nieces loved him so very much because he was like them. Troy struggled with the characteristics and symptoms that many with Down Syndrome must endure; vision problems, a stocky body, mental retardation, speech problems, etc. But in his family he was an equal, no less or more important than his younger siblings.
The memorial service was attended by hundreds. Everyone who met Troy loved him. And he was never forgotten, even after having met him just once. His happy, quirky, and exuberant personality nestled with permenance into every heart. Troy, and many children like him( and I use the term child with purpose) who have Down’s Syndrome or some other disability that pre-empts the cynacism of adult perspective, take on a celebrity status. People drop their names and boast about their interactions with these special people as if somehow those connections elevate the ordinary person to a higher quality; the fellowship of angels.
I have been a devotee of the Special Olympics for many years. It is a privilege to take my students to the events and watch them become victors. So many of these kids have had lives of endless affliction and illness; challenges that are never fully surmounted. Each day is scripted with pain and defeat, and what little progress occurs does so in a slow creep. The Special Olympics is a mountain top that is designed to be scaled, time and time again. The competitors know the joy of hearing cheers from the stands, and boosters jumping and clapping on the sidelines. But I sometimes think that the greatest victors are those “typical” participants; coaches, teachers, parents, and fans, whose hearts nearly burst with satisfaction each time that mountain top meets a conqueror.
Thanks go to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her inspired vision of “inclusion.” The Special Olympics have done more than any one organization for people with disabilities, to bring special children and adults into the center of community action and affection. You could say that individuals with special needs are transformed into superheroes, or superstars, by their participation in the planned victories of the Special Olympics. I disagree. I don’t believe they are transformed at all. I believe that it provides merely a brighter spotlight, placed so sensitively that it reveals their true natures. They are born victors; Olympians on God’s mountain top, with the power of angels to soften and renew the hardest of human hearts.