I was talking to Worthington Police Officer Jacki Dawson a while back about Special Olympics, and it got me to thinking about the couple of years I spent as a coach. It kind of happened accidentally, as so many things seem to do.
I was the editor of a weekly paper at the time, and one day two people walked into my office. They told me they wanted to start a Special Olympics team in their area. I knew, of course, that SO existed, but had never really given it much thought.
As a teenager, I had taken a class about child development that had landed me in a classroom of junior high students who were at the time classified as mentally teachable and trainable. My teacher asked me what I thought of the idea and I remember being a bit nervous about it, but I said yes. I ended up having so much fun working with those kids. I think they taught me more about life and patience and perseverance than I ever taught them about anything.
So, fast forward a decade or so, and Iâ€™m in my office with two people who wanted my help, publicity-wise, to get the word out about the new SO team.
Iâ€™m still not exactly sure how it happened, but I ended up as a coach. Since my athletic abilities are pretty much zero, either they were really desperate or were more interested in my ability to keep the athletes laughing and in line. SO athletes are not all children â€“ they are people of all ages â€“ but there were several who were elementary school age and needed a little extra watching over.
Anyway, we did track and field stuff and we bowled, and I actually got some of the best bowling tips of my life from one of the athletes, who could wing a ball down the alley like nobodyâ€™s business. Alas, Iâ€™m still thrilled when I break 100, but the kid tried. His handicap was that he was working with me.
One year I was asked to go to the annual conference, and hesitantly agreed. I had a full-time job and three little kids at home, but my husband was pretty insistent that I go. I found out later that he knew something I didnâ€™t. One of the coaches, without my knowledge, had nominated me for an award regarding SO media coverage and I had won.
I didnâ€™t know until about a half hour before the ceremony, when an athlete from another team approached with his coach and asked how to pronounce my last name so he could introduce me during the banquet. Baffled as to why they would want to, I mentioned it to the coach who had nominated me. He â€˜fessed up. I cried.
I still have the plaque. Itâ€™s on my wall at home, and I smile every time it catches my attention.
Itâ€™s hard to explain the joys of working with SO if you havenâ€™t experienced it.Â Seeing the way every coach and every athlete cheers for every person. I never once witnessed â€œlittle league parentâ€ syndrome â€“ everyoneâ€™s goal was to support every single person there. It was exhilarating, uplifting, joyful and a complete and total hoot.
I was sad when I had to bow out of coaching, but sometimes you just canâ€™t control whatâ€™s going on in life.
Iâ€™m still a huge fan of Special Olympics, and I encourage people to stop out at Hy-Vee Thursday evening to support Cop on Top, which goes from 6 p.m. Thursday to 6 p.m. Friday. For those 24 hours, a cop from the Worthington Police Department will sit on top of the building in an effort to raise money. I hear several of them are doing it in shifts, and the Worthington Fire Department will help out by providing the big ladder to get them up and down.
There will be activities going on below, including the opportunity to visit with K-9 unit Randy Liepold and Laika, see McGruff and some other fun stuff. Stop on by and visit. Buy a t-shirt. Itâ€™s a really great cause. While youâ€™re there, shake hands with Officer Dawson, who is doing one heck of a job raising money and awareness for Special Olympics. She certainly deserves a pat on the back for her dedication and enthusiasm.