The din surrounding the health care debate over these past few weeks makes me feel like the kid who wakes up in the middle of the night to the ruckus of her parents duking it out in the other room. You know it isn't pretty, you feel ill-equipped to deal with it and you have no desire to venture into the ugly fray. So you pull a pillow around your ears to muffle the hollering and try to set your mind to better things.
Survival skills like that tend to kick in when you need them, and so in an odd way I found my mind wandering to a much better place when the news of Eunice Kennedy's Shriver's death came last week in the midst of all those town hall shout-outs.
The woman who founded the Special Olympics in 1968 is gone at the age of 88, and what an impressive legacy she left. She changed the world for the physically and mentally impaired, many of whom had traditionally been kept out of sight and holed up in institutions. She changed the perspective for many others who as parents, teachers, fellow students, volunteers or simply observers have had the chance to be a part of the Special Olympics.
There's no doubt in my mind that as a reporter, covering these special athletes is the best gig ever. I am reminded of that every February when it's time to grab my baseball cap, slather on the sunscreen, head over to the River Ridge High stadium and get ready to experience some oh-so-good-feelings because the summer games are here again.
Lucky for me, summer rolls into fall and winter. I've had the opportunity to attend gymnastic events where little girls and boys are truly gleeful to roll a somersault or walk the low balance beam. I've visited the local bowling alleys where, for some participants, just making it up to a special ramp that guides the ball down to the alley is a great feat indeed. I've been impressed by the exertion that goes into lifting barbells in the weight room at Saint Leo University and the team effort that goes into the softball games on the fields at Mitchell High.
I immensely enjoyed one particular golfing outing at Seven Springs Country Club where I couldn't help but get that welled-up feeling while watching a father and son exchange high fives after the kid's ball sailed some 80 yards across the green.
"It's like the Ryder Cup," the dad told me.
Just a few weeks ago, I spent another awesome Friday evening at a Special Olympics county swim meet at the New Port Richey rec center, where a blind kid with cerebral palsy and a 23-year-old mentally challenged young woman came away with ribbons in their first swim competitions, and a 36-year-old with Down syndrome vowed to beat Michael Phelps' Olympic medal count for his mom, who is in heaven now.
Competition is definitely a part of it, but the games are about so much more. They're about trying your hardest and, as the famous oath says, being brave in the attempt — even if you don't win. And while ribbons are cool, I've found over the years that often it doesn't matter which color they come in; that inches turn into real milestones when kids and adults in wheelchairs and walkers are making their way down a high school track.
Best of all are the smiles and hugs that are doled out like minutes on a clock and all those folks on the sidelines who are always hollering like there's no tomorrow, cheering for each and every athlete whether it's their kid or not.
It's a different kind of din, a happy din. One with no need for muffling.
Michele Miller can be reached at miller@firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 869 6251.