Coming Back from COVID: Let the Games Begin!
By: Brenda Stuart-Ryan
It’s been 3 years since our Special Olympics athletes have been able to compete at Colorado Mesa University for State Summer Games. Mother nature welcomed them back to Grand Junction by providing a beautiful rainbow over the stadium at Colorado Mesa University; a sure sign it was time to resume the activities they love.
Special Olympics isn’t just about the competition. It’s about the camaraderie. The chance to get together with friends who understand you and to high-five each other at the end of a race. COVID put a brief damper on some of the smiles but made the athletes appreciate each other that much more when they could finally reunite.
The toughest part of any competition is waiting your turn. While they were all eager to begin, our athletes could teach us all a thing or two about sportsmanship. It was amazing to watch as they wished each other luck in the staging areas.
Sometimes I wish my son was a runner or a powerlifter, instead of a swimmer. That way, I could see the smile on his and the others’ faces as they compete. Oh well, we parents got plenty of opportunities for smiling photos at the podium.
Every athlete wears their medals and ribbons proudly. Most refuse to take them off for days, even if they’re wearing three of them. As a parent, it’s breathtaking to watch the joy of their accomplishments. But parents weren’t the only ones in awe during the state meet.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the people who make all this possible. The hundreds of volunteers who give up their weekend to help stage the athletes, congratulate them after a race, and put on a spectacular after-party are true angels.
I asked one volunteer, Donna Booth, why she does it year after year. Her answer? “Just seeing the smiles. I think I get more out of this than the athletes. I’m so thankful to be back.”
A special thanks also goes out to Colorado Mesa University for inviting the athletes to stay in the dorm and enjoy college life for a weekend. Many of the athletes tell me sleeping in the dorm and eating in the campus cafeteria was the best part!
Brenda Stuart-Ryan is a Denver journalist and frequent volunteer with Special Olympics Colorado. Her son’s favorite activities are swimming, basketball, bowling, and special events like Tip-a-Cop, the Plane Pull, and the Polar Plunge.