Susan's Blog

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Let Ability Ring

Went to a gala last night, the 40th anniversary of Special Olympics Massachusetts. Tim Shriver had invited me as a guest, and he was there to accept an award for his mom, Eunice, who, of course, founded the entire operation 40 years ago in her back yard (Camp Shriver). That still blows my mind, to imagine how incredibly psyched she must have been, looking around at their large yard and thinking, “Hmmmmmmm…. how could I do it? Could I? Really?” I wonder how many times she encountered self-doubt or skepticism from others. Apparently many family outsiders doubted this undertaking, but various Kennedy sibs always jumped in to say, “Maybe you or I won’t be able to, but Eunice will do it, trust me.”

This is what you need to succeed at something. A really good idea, that taps into an unmet need of a group, a circle of people who wholeheartedly support you, the unflagging desire to make it happen, and well, maybe a good connection or two. But it can’t be just one of these qualities: connections or money alone will not do it, nor will passion alone. You also need a great yard.

Seriously, I went to this thing held at Harvard’s Indoor Track, a gala billed as “black tie and sneakers.” Some people actually did wear sneakers with their finery. Not me. Never. Here’s what I wore:

While there I met some pretty interesting people. I heard a wonderful athlete make a speech that brought us to our feet. This kid is autistic, albeit fairly mildly, and he is now a champion golfer, got an 82 on some famous course somewhere, and the men at my table were all choking on their filet mignon over this great score.

Which goes to show you that we can’t make assumptio0ns about ability. I remember when I was on School Committee, and served as a liaison to the “Gifted and Talented Parent Advisory Board” I saw what happens with labels and assumptions. Many of the parents there were certain that there was a large divide between so-called “gifted” kids and so-called “disabled” kids. But very, very often, the twain do meet. In fact, probably always. You can, you are, gifted in some things and struggling in others. The lines should not be so darkly drawn.

Last night I met a guy who was director of a famous college program that served students with disabilities, a program I have long admired. I found that even he seemed to harbor these kinds of assumptions. He told me that he often steered his students away from Special Olympics because they tend to be “ringers.” Maybe he was kidding. But I felt a little bit punched. I thought of Nat, so swift and able on the track and in the pool. I thought of Tyler, who played that great game of golf. I thought of Sam, Chris, Emily, Scott, and for a moment I was speechless. That is my particular inability: I can’t always think on my feet (particularly when I’m wearing 3 inch stilettos). I let the remark pass, and I changed the subject.

But now I want to say what I could not say then: you never really know who is the ringer in a given activity or subject. And that is why everyone should be given the chance to find out. Let ability ring.


Special Olympics is great! I think it was historically focused on the Downs and MR community but they have embraced people with autism with arms wide open. S.O. is a year round affair and great exercise.

My son tried S.O. swimming last year for the first time. My wife and I expected a participation ribbon, Yeah! Instead, we got a State Champion who, at this year’s regional aualifying meet, looked up to us and said, “Did I win?”. Winning doesn’t matter to us in the least but apparently it does to him. Who would’ve thunk it? By the way, he did win. On to State! In S.O., whatever the result, everyone is a winner!

— added by Anonymous on Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 8:31 pm

Susan, I totally get what you said about feeling “a little bit punched” after reading about the man who sort of put down S.O. I felt that way after reading it. We have a 9 year old son who is moderate and joined swimming the last 2 years, and he loves it. No, he’s not a champion, he probably won’t be, but that’s not our focus, it’s knowing that he is excited about going, loves an activity other than computer and tv, and applies himself while there. It’s sad that there is even a concept of “ringers” in S.O. It seems to me that’s so now what it’s all about. Thanks for sharing and I so enjoy your blog and got your book at the library yesterday.

— added by Bonnie on Monday, April 7, 2008 at 2:19 pm

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