When we last spoke, I left you at the end of the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony. The Flame of Hope was lit, the sky was dark, thunderstorms were moving in. We all kind of rushed to our cars before all the rain started and we head back to our hotel room in Peoria. (Which, by the way, was thankfully not as far away as I initially thought.)
The next day was Henry’s competition. He’s entered in the tennis ball throw. Not exactly triathlon-level skills, but it’s what he can do. We got to sleep in (HOORAY) and we set off for Bloomington at around noon. Henry was scheduled to compete at 2:40, so we wanted to be there early enough to find where we needed to be, meet his coach, and all that. The weather on Saturday was, well, uncomfortable. It was around 90 degrees with 247% humidity. Miserable, hot, wet, moist, sticky. As if you’d taken a beach towel, soaked it, stuck it in the microwave for 2 minutes, and then wrapped it around yourself & tried to breathe. Ew. On top of that, the previous night’s rain (and the previous day’s & the day before that’s) had saturated the ground, creating mud pits that made it….interesting for those trying to maneuver wheelchairs across fields to get to their event.
We got there around 1pm where I quickly realized I had forgotten the sunscreen. Good heavens. So we got back in the car and drove to the Circle K (which will always elicit a “strange things are afoot at the Circle-K” from me) where we found some for a very reasonable SIXTEEN DOLLARS. Since we’re good parents, we paid it and oiled up our kids. We drove back to the stadium and got out of the van, where Henry proceeded to begin his previous night’s protestations anew. We were supposed to meet his coach in front of the stadium. As we got to the front, we realized we didn’t really know what was meant by “the front of the stadium”. There could have been 4 or 5 different place that could have been “the front of the stadium”. So, rather than continue to wander aimlessly with bags, cameras, backpacks, cooler full of water, and 2 children who needed their hands held, I planted them right inside the stadium fence and went off to find someone from our team. Gymnastics? Nope. Went over to the field where tennis ball throw is held. No one at softball throw. Trekked across the muddy “path” to the tennis ball throw. No one. Down the hill to the next tent. Still no one. By now, I am coated in sweat, my back hurts, my feet are muddy and I can’t find anyone. I went back to where I left the family and told them I couldn’t find anyone. Steve suggested we just go to where Henry’s competing and someone would figure out to check there as our time approached. Off we went. Back through the mudfield. By now, Henry was literally wilting. He was hot, exhausted, didn’t want to be there AT ALL. I would guess he shared these feelings with a “NO!!!” probably 30,000 times. We sat on the tiniest bleachers and I offered him some applesauce. He ate that and we tried to get some water in him. (In case you didn’t know, Henry doesn’t take liquids. He cannot figure out how they work and he’s terrified. He simply refuses them. So dehydration is always a concern with him. In these situations, we never know if he’s hydrated enough) He took 3 “sips” (letting the water in the bottle touch his lips). I decided to take him over to see exactly where he should be. Got confirmation that he was supposed to be where we were. I had my phone now, but no phone numbers, so I couldn’t call his coach. I tried posting on their Facebook page that we were already there.
After about 15 minutes of Henry slowly melting into a pool of sharp corners & hair, I asked if we could just wait under the tent, even though it was still 20 minutes until our scheduled time. Thankfully the woman at the table was kind enough to say yes. Got him in a chair & looking at a book while I tried to contact SOMEONE who could take him to compete. After about 10 minutes, the lady came back over and said, “We’re actually running ahead of schedule, so Henry will be up in the next group.” And. I. PANIC. No coach, no one from our team, just a pissed off little boy, a clueless mother who’s on the verge of tears, and a dream.
I realized that I had 2 choices. I could tuck Henry under my arm and run to the car. I also could suck it up and be his coach. I had no idea what to do, how to coach, or even where to stand. But, I wasn’t about to go through the 2 days we’d just been through and run for the hills without at least TRYING. Henry and his 2 competitors are now on deck. I’m texting Steve to say, “you’re going to have to take pictures”, I’m trying to keep Henry calm and focused. I looked up to see his coach, Lindsay, running over. THANK GOD THANK GOD THANK GOD. I hug her and thank her for finding us. She took over, I ran over to get my camera, and try to calm down.
Okay, before I get to the actual throwing part, let me tell you a little about Henry. Since he was about…oh, 4 years old, this kid could THROW. Anything. Particularly his shoes, his pacifier/strap, books, random crap on the floor. This child can chuck a pacifier from the back of our Sprinter van and hit the driver smack in the head. (4 rows, y’all) According to his previous P.E. teacher, he holds the record for throwing a shoe across the gym. This kid will blow your mind with how well he can throw. In fact, my oldest 2 kids are, I believe, undefeated in dodgeball because they grew up avoiding projectiles in the home.
So there’s that. Back to the story. In Henry’s division, there is him & 2 other boys. They each get 3 throws and the average is their score. The first boy steps up and throws it about 3-4 feet. That was awesome! Henry steps up and basically drops the tennis ball ON THE LINE. (Well, maybe, 2″ over the line) The 3rd boy throws about 2 feet or so from his chair. Next round. The first boy returns and throws a little less far – maybe 2-3 feet. Henry’s turn. His ball is thrown 6 inches or so further than last time. The 3rd boy throws his a good distance. (4 feet or so). Final round. 1st boy gets off a great 5-6 foot throw. Henry? Basically pushes the ball away from him. Maybe 3 feet. And 3rd boy does another good throw. Miss Lindsay & I look at each other, incredulously, and shake our heads. Because WE KNOW.
This child gave ZERO effort. I don’t know if it’s because he’s nervous or he doesn’t get it or he absolutely does not care. But it kills us because we KNOW. We are 100% sure that this kid could throw the crap out of that ball if he tried. Perhaps he’s just saying, “I don’t care. I will do what I must to be done & go home.” Could be.
What’s really amazing was that as soon as it all was over, he came alive. He was happy & singing & dancing & posing for pictures. He was talking & talking & talking to Mom-Mom & Pop-Pop. He was talking to fellow athletes. He became total Mr. Personality. Even the other 2 competitors were looking at him like, “Dude. Who ARE you?” In the 2nd picture over there, Henry’s talking to his hand (they have long conversations, often with the hand parroting what we’ve said to him before) and they look very, very confused.
So that’s our Special Olympics experience. Henry finished with a bronze medal, some happiness, a couple new friends, and complete control over what he will & will not do. I hope he gets to go again. I would love to have the experience again when he’s a little more able to do it. I’d love to see how he would interact more with his peers, how he might enjoy portions he didn’t this time, maybe even get to
walk in the parade of athletes. I’d love for him to get to go to the Victory Dance on Saturday night. I think he’d really, really love that if he gave it a chance. I’d really love for him to be able to try some other events – like maybe running or standing long jump. I know it’s about doing what he can. Being able to just do his best in whatever way he’s able. He’s just such an amazing kid and there are so many experiences out there I want him to have. Yes, he’s eleven. But I’m really excited to see what the upcoming years will bring. I will absolutely keep him involved in Special Olympics because what I saw this past weekend was amazing. The way people came together for the sole purpose of celebrating, encouraging, lifting up, and challenging people who normally get ignored. Telling them “you can”. And then creating a way that THEY CAN. So awesome. And I’m thrilled that my son gets to be a part of it. Because, y’all?? Henry is an Olympic athlete!!