It’s not just the athletes who win at the Special Olympics

Jennifer Park

Sitting in bed at 2 a.m. and writing a to-do list for tomorrow hinders me from what I long to do most, sleep. Somehow, the school bully known as “Responsibility” knows when you are having the longest and most arduous week of your life. Knowing that I have to get up in two hours and put on my “shouldn’t be worn out in public” committee shirt to begin a long weekend ahead keeps me wide awake for reasons I can not explain. Who knew that the long awaited Special Olympics Fall Festival was just three hours away?

You know you’re spending too many hours working for Special Olympics (SPO) when yesterday seemed like weeks ago, but more importantly when you know that your chairperson’s phone alarm rings at 10 p.m. every night because she needs to take her medication. After spending an entire week dedicating more hours to Special Olympics than sleep, I ask myself in desperate and weary moments, “What were you thinking?”

“Prioritizing is an important part of life,” my mother tells me two days before the festival, “you have to remember that you’re a student and studies come first. Just make sure you get enough sleep and keep your priorities straight.” Priorities are important and every time I think about what I got myself into, I sometimes yearn to forget about my responsibilities to Special Olympics and devise a plan to somehow salvage my grade in my organic chemistry class. “Priorities? Come on, sometimes you have to throw out the rational, responsible thing you do to do something important for others,” said Computers Chairperson Patrick Buckley. However, maybe my mother is right. Getting sleep, doing my work, and then volunteering; that’s the right way to prioritize a college student’s life, right?

During the last Special Olympics, I met Charlie. He was a long distance runner from McKean County. I was a local program host who cheered him on. Watching him walk around the track with conviction gave me strength to cheer louder with more energy in the cold weather. I watched him fall multiple times and when someone tried to help him up, he got up himself and continued to run. Charlie finally finished; not first, but not last either. He immediately ran over to me and gave me a huge hug, saying thank you. I asked him why he was thanking me and he told me that every time he fell, I cheered louder, yelling “don’t let a little fall stop you Charlie, pick yourself up, you can do it.” Tears started to swell up my eyes. As I quickly blinked my tears away, I thanked him for giving me that opportunity to finally realize what was truly important in my life.

Thinking about Charlie makes me realize that my priorities are blatantly wrong. I put my worries and complaints above the more important aspect of doing something for others.

I look around at the other committee members working long hours as well. Some are painting banners and arranging venues, while others are running a festival.

But all are giving a part of them to the festival. Never will you meet a group of college students so dedicated and passionate. “These students are not meeting every week and spending long hours working so that they can add it to their accomplishment list, but because each and every one of them have a special, personal connection to Special Olympics,” said Allison Sherwood, evaluation assistant on the committee. This event may only last three days, take nine months of planning for committee members, but it takes a lifetime of fighting oppression, adversity and physical disabilities for an Special Olympics athlete to have the chance to compete at Special Olympics Fall Festival at Villanova University.

With approximately two hours now left until I have to get up for my first committee meeting, I look up at my desk and look at a quote from last year, “Don’t let a little fall stop you, Jenn, pick yourself up, you can do it.”

I now cannot fall asleep, not because I am worried about the amount of work I have due next week, but because of the anxiety and excitement brewing inside of me.

I know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with my priorities. I will volunteer and ace my organic chemistry exam. I know I will walk out of this weekend tired and exhausted, but with new friendships, a weekend to remember, and a sunny di-SPO-sition.