I found myself crying twice this Sunday morning, completely overwhelmed while watching a track meet that the majority of St. Louis had no idea was even taking place.
The event was the 2013 Gateway Games, put on by the Disabled Athlete Sports Association. (http://www.dasasports.org)
My reason for attending was that I volunteered my time as a mentor for a group called Ready & Willing that pairs St. Louis advertising and marketing talent with local charities in need of advertising and marketing support. I chose DASA and our client contacts told us that the Gateway Games would be a great way to see what the organization is all about.
So while most of St. Louis was still waking up in the morning, I headed out to St. Charles West High School, not knowing exactly what to expect.
I met up with another member of our group who brought along her mother to see the activities and we arrived just as a 100-yard dash was getting ready to begin for the 18-and-under age group.
There were a range of participants, mostly way younger than 18. I immediately noticed a little girl who looked to be about 7 who was all excited about the race. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe she was an amputee below the knee with an artificial leg and foot. Off to the side, I saw a girl who I think had Cerebral Palsy struggling to figure out how to adjust her starting block. Then I noticed another girl who looked extremely fit, helping a girl line up and get in a starting position for the race. A few seconds later, I realized the one girl was blind and the other would be her guide.
The starter was totally professional, explaining the rules and how the race would be run. Then they were all in their starting blocks and they were off – at a wide variety of speeds. The blind girl won and the times varied – but they all crossed the finish line and the day was underway.
We decided to head down to the finish line to get a better view of the races as they unfolded. There were wheel chair races and a variety of foot races – from the 60-yard dash to 800 meters.
I was amazed at the speed of some of the wheel chair racers, most of whom have specially made racing chairs that I have no idea what they might cost. One guy was clearly in a class of his own and when I inquired about him, I was told that he had won several national competitions.
Then there was this guy named John – who appeared to be about 70 – he wore a jersey proclaiming he was a disabled Veteran and he had this pointy-looking racing helmet that I’m sure could have taken seconds off his time with the aerodynamics – but he was in an ordinary wheelchair and struggled to keep it rolling. He didn’t care. His head was down and determination fueled him across the finish line and you could see the triumph and sense of accomplishment in his eyes upon completing the race. You could also tell that John was quite the character and thrilled to be in on the games.
One kid got to me, though.
His name was Jackson and he absolutely made my heart melt and brought on a wave of emotion that completely took me by surprise. One second I was watching these kids race and all of a sudden all these thoughts came flooding into my head. I thanked the Lord for all I’ve been blessed with – my own health and the health of my family, all while hearing the cheering of the fans in the stands as I watched this young boy who struggled with every step he took – but there was just some inner resolve in him that made him go on. And I thought, here I am standing on the sidelines of a racetrack in St. Charles on a Sunday morning and most people have absolutely no idea this is even happening and all the struggles this child will face and the many obstacles his family will have to overcome to guide him into adulthood were all right there in front of me – and when he crossed that finish line, I was crying.
He got me again later in the morning.
Jackson had run almost all the races, and was in the back of the pack in most of them. Then they announced they were having the 800 meter race. Two laps around the track. Before the race began, I overheard his mother mention that he had never run 800 meters before but wanted to give it a shot. And he did. One determined little boy, running the best he could. As he was on the far side of the track, he looked so small. I could hear the shouts of encouragement pushing him on and then that wave of emotion hit me again.
In the grand scheme of things, that race means nothing. But it meant everything to him. He finished. He triumphed. And I was thrilled I got to see that little victory.
I’ll be writing more about the Disabled Athlete Sports Association over the next few months. What they do is bring out the abilities in those with disabilities.
And they reminded me that just because someone is disabled, they are still absolutely able – to compete, to struggle and to enjoy the satisfaction of finishing.
Count your blessings. Overcome the obstacles that lay before you. Never give up.
I’ll cut the cliches now and I wish you all a great work week ahead.