Special Olympics: Courage in action

Owner of Nordic Total Fitness

I often write columns about motivation and inspiration — things that really get you doing something you normally wouldn’t do. Many times all of us come up with excuses as to why we can’t do something, especially when it comes to fitness. It’s just so much easier to make up an excuse than to sweat a little bit for our overall health. The couch is much more comforting than doing squats or burpees. 

However, there is a group of people who put all of us to shame when it comes to motivating or inspiring others, and those people are the athletes of the Special Olympics.

This past Saturday I was fortunate enough to volunteer and be a part of the Special Olympics in Champaign. There are a couple of reasons why I enjoy doing this.

For one, my mom used to work at a home for people with disabilities, and even though I didn’t get it at the time because I was so young and immature, it certainly had an impact on me down the road.  I then became a teacher many years later, and I started working with a few students who had disabilities, whether it be mental or physical. Those kids turned out to be my favorite kids because of their desire and attitude. 

Finally, I started helping a few years ago at a Special Olympics in Terre Haute, Ind., and it was an incredible experience.  To be honest, I love helping these athletes, but it really helps me put things into perspective.  I think life is tough, or owning a business is difficult, but then I watch a person confined to a wheelchair who can’t even lift their head up without assistance throw a softball. For a few hours I realize how fortunate I am to be able to just walk, to be able to use the bathroom by myself, and be blessed with the ability to lift weights. I forget about all the excuses I hear from people who are more than capable to commit to working out for their health because they “don’t have time”, because I’m watching these incredible people overcome more obstacles than many of us could even imagine.

The main thing that I enjoy from being there is how happy these athletes are to be treated like everyone else. They don’t get mad if they don’t win, because they are just happy to participate. That was tough for me to realize at first because I’m so incredibly competitive that I refuse to let me mother even win at Scrabble on Mother’s Day. By the way, I won 325 to 241 just so you know. 

But seriously, these athletes, for at least one day, are running 50-yard dashes, throwing softballs, long-jumping and more. The smiles on their faces tell you everything they need to know. Everyone’s a winner, and there is nothing but applause and encouragement going around. If you ever wanted to be part of something positive and uplifting, then the Special Olympics is for you. Some athletes threw the softball 75 meters, and some only threw it 2 meters. It didn’t matter how far they threw because they had already won by simply trying.

I could write a book about this experience, but I’m limited to a small column. I finish with one athlete who inspired me the most. I could go with the little girl who was absolutely adorable and so tiny and was incredibly happy after she threw. Or, I could go with the young man who was good and he knew it, who danced before he threw the ball 75 meters and smiled from ear to ear because he won. 

But I will go with the gentleman who was confined to a wheelchair and actually had to throw backwards because his arm wouldn’t move the correct way. 

In spite of all their “disabilities,” these athletes put on an incredible show that was inspiring and uplifting, to say the least. As I drove away that day, I thought back to people who won’t join a gym because they “don’t have time” or “don’t want to sweat in front of people,” and I just shook my head. Many of you have the ability to do anything you want, but how many of you waste it? Imagine what you could do if you just tried? 

The athletes on Saturday tried and the won. Winning doesn’t always mean taking first place; oftentimes it means making an effort and just trying.

Sam Erwin is owner of Nordic Total Fitness in downtown Paxton. Have a question or topic about health or fitness? Email Erwin at samerwin1717@gmail.com. Your topic or questions may be included in next week’s edition of the Fitness Forum.


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