Surry Special Olympics is an extraordinary thing. I’d never seen it live before covering this year’s spring games this past Friday, and I have to say, it was positively awe-inspiring.
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much happiness in one place in my whole life. There was a recurring chorus of folks who said they live for it every year. Said they spend all year looking forward to it, in much the same way other folks look forward to Christmas.
As soon as I heard that, it was clear I was in the presence of something important. I watched a young lady give it her all in the 8-10-year-old wheelchair race. Her name is Abby Parker and she is nine. She got tired pushing the wheels of her chair about halfway through the race, but the crowd cheered her and cheered her until she finished the course and rolled into the finish-line ribbon.
Her ear-to-ear grin was something to see. I won’t soon forget it.
I also met Neal Joyner, a very personable man who had earlier that morning won one of two Milestone Awards given out in honor of the Surry Games’ 40th anniversary. Neal and Clark Key received the awards because they have participated in Surry Special Olympics since the beginning.
I didn’t get a chance to meet Mr. Key but Neal told me he was 47 years old, so that means he has been competing since he was seven.
Before we had our chat, I attempted to take a photo of him competing in the tennis ball throw and he threw the ball so hard, I just about got clocked in the head. Goes to show what 40 years of experience will do for you.
Neal told me he had been inducted into the Surry Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, and he was pretty proud of that, as he had every right to be.
All in all, an enjoyable conversation, even though it did involve a near-miss with a concussion.
The opening ceremony was very touching. The athletes marched onto the field with their team signs through an arch of balloons and flanked by two rows of cheering sponsors. Wild cheering. Smiles, grins, excitement. Corporate mascots in animal costumes high-fiving the athletes as a deejay pumped out lively music.
And then I saw a little fellow with his fingers in his ears. One pointer finger jammed into each ear. As soon as I saw him, I knew exactly what was going on. My grandson is autistic, and when he is overwhelmed or over-stimulated, he does that. I imagine he is trying to bring the noise down to a tolerable level. For him, too much noise is painful and scary, even if it’s happy noise. An arcade or a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese is a misery for him.
And this little fella had the same go-to move. I didn’t know him from Adam’s house cat, but I felt for him. There was a lot of noise, and a lot of people, a lot going on in general. But even though he had his fingers in his ears and his eyes looked a little frightened, darting around and looking for the danger, he was smiling.
His mouth was turned up into a hesitant little grin, and his eyes were trying to catch up. They were getting close, but weren’t quite there. Excited and scared. Mostly excited, but a little bit scared. But all in all, he looked like he wanted to be exactly where he was.
I made up my mind then and there I wanted Micah to compete in Special Olympics. If that’s a way for him to come to terms with his challenges, then I’m going to get me one of those ‘buddy’ tee shirts, and we’re going to do it.
I’m not sure how long the young fellow I saw had been in Special Olympics, but clearly, he knew it was a positive enough experience to warrant the strain on his ears. I want for Micah the happiness I saw on the bottom of his face .
He looked pleased with his accomplishment. As well he should have. The other athletes had competitions yet to come, but he had won his biggest battle getting through the opening ceremonies.
I don’t know the young man, but I am very proud of him. Very proud.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.