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"Well, hello, Wilson!" said the Nike Youth Games/Special Olympics volunteer at check-in. I looked at Wil to see if he was wearing a name tag I hadn't remembered him wearing. I replayed the last minute in my head: Had he said his name? No, he hadn't said anything, he'd simply walked up to the table.
"I remember you from last year," the adorable, young, volunteer said.
She remembered him from LAST year? There are hundreds and hundreds of kids here, how could she remember HIM?
But she had.
Wil participated in his second Nike Youth Games event held in conjunction with Special Olympics. He played soccer on a Project UNIFY team and was matched with (not against) three other teams from the area. If you want to know all that's right with the world, look no further than a Project UNIFY team. A unified team has both players with and without intellectual disabilities. Those with intellectual disabilities are "athletes" and those without are "partners." There are strict rules about how many athletes must be on the field/court/etc. at a time, and how many partners. Athletes get to make the goals, the baskets, the points, what-have-you. Partners are there to support the athletes in every way. It's a wonder to behold. If you're not tearing up after a Project UNIFY game, you have a stone for a heart.
I recently watched (the best show on TV) "Super Soul Sunday" with Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics. Amazing man. Amazing family legacies. Amazing inspiration: his aunt, Rosemary Kennedy. Rosemary Kennedy had a traumatic birth, which left her with an intellectual disability. It was not easy to "see," and the family kept it hidden (in shame). Rosemary functioned approximately at the age of an 8-12 year-old. At 23, her father agreed, without his wife's knowledge or consent, to a prefrontal lobotomy for Rosemary. It left her incapacitated. She lived until 86.
It's easy to go down the Her-Life-Was-Tragic road, and believe me, I've gone down it. I've also gone down the How-Could-You-Stay-Married-To-A-Man-That-Does-Not-Consult-You-Before-Such-A-Thing? road. It's not a pretty road. Or, very helpful.
Eunice Shriver took the family secret and she put it front of the country, in a time where the intellectually disabled were the most stigmatized population in the country (one could argue that they still are). The first Special Olympics were held in July 1968, in Chicago, Illinois.
There are over 4 million Special Olympic athletes in the world now.
Over 4 million people are now getting opportunities, and respect, that is long over-due.
Rosemary Kennedy, you are remembered.