Susan's Blog

Friday, November 16, 2007

NovemBUR Commentary

Tonight in Boston there is an event for Special Olympics, honoring its founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, at the JFK Library. Maria Shriver, and her brothers Mark, Anthony, and Robert. will be part of a forum on the Special Olympics movement. Their brother Tim could not attend, which is too bad because he’s the actual CEO of Special O — and a friend.

Our local NPR station asked me to do a commentary for them as part of their coverage of this event. I am attending the event as a member of the press, and I am very, very excited about it. It is no secret how much I love SO for what they have done for Natty’s life. Last night Ned and I went into the studio at WBUR and I did my fourth commentary for them; this time, on what Special Olympics has meant to us as a family. (Interestingly, for the last three years on Nat’s birthday WBUR has asked me to do a commentary! I get very busy writing around Nat’s birthday, and do some of my best stuff because, well, you know.)

Ned brought some live audio from a race of Nat’s, and the engineer fit it into the broadcast for Morning Edition. You can listen here. Or just read it, but it is worth the click.

I sometimes wonder what was going through Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s head when she came up with the idea of Special Olympics and turned her backyard in 1962 into a summer camp for disabled kids.

They say it was for Rosemary, her older, learning disabled sister. That Eunice saw how difficult things were for her and was inspired by her struggle, and that she also saw that including Rosie with the right support worked out well.

It is certainly true that having a disabled person in your life can really alter your perspective. You become very familiar with the dark underside of the world, the realm of “can’t do” and “will never be.”

My son is autistic, and I have been jamming my foot into closing doors all his life. From the renowned doctor who shrugged and pronounced him “retarded,” to the synagogue that would not let him have a Sabbath bar mitzvah, to the local principal who was afraid to have him attend her school.

One day, however, a door swung open wide where we least expected it: sports. Nat, at age elevn, tried a gymnastics class run by Special Olympics. The coach was inexperienced with autism but full of energy and patience. She worked him hard and got him to the State Games that summer. We experienced the odd sensation of feeling both proud of our son and of being able to trust others with him. Then at fourteen, Nat learned how to swim, on the local Special Olympics swim team, and it was the first time he ever seemed to look forward to something. “Swim races, swim races,” he would say over and over, with a huge grin. Now, at eighteen, Special Olympics taught him how to be a part of a basketball team.

Our life with Nat is often very hard, but at his sporting events it is not. There, he’s just another team member playing his hardest. Nat is just one of the guys, and we are like everyone else. There is no “can’t” in Special Olympics. Whether she knew it or not back then, I think this is what Eunice Kennedy had in mind when she set up that daycamp. Even though the Special Olympics athlete’s pledge is “let me be brave,” the stunning thing about Special Olympics is, we parents don’t have to be.


I was listening to the radio and I heard them talking about Maria Shriver. Oh, I thought, Susan knows her. Then, suddenly it was you, on the radio!

For some reason I thought I was going to miss your broadcast, thinking it was on in the middle of the day, but it was part of Morning Edition!

You sounded really good!

— added by Shannon Brooke Davis on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 9:49 am

That gave me goosebumps.

— added by mumkeepingsane on Friday, November 16, 2007 at 11:14 am