This past weekend was the NJ Special Olympic State Competition at TCNJ. Special Athletes from around the state came together to compete is a diverse set of events, ranging from softball, swimming, weight lifting, tennis and track & field. South Plainfield was again represented by our own Special Athletes under the guidance of Coach Denitzio and Coach Hearne.
As I sat in the stands on Friday Night and watched the wonderful Opening Ceremony, I saw some things that truly stood out to me. Each region, sometimes made up of one county or multiple counties was escorted onto the field with a handful of Rutgers Football Players. These young men from Rutgers have undertaken this tradition for numerous years. They walk onto the field with their fellow athletes knowing this is not their show. The spotlight is not on them, they are there to give and support the Special Athletes they are escorting. Watching these young men, some destined to make it to the NFL and become professional football players and armed with Sharpie Markers, sign anything put in front up them, pick up the smaller athletes for hugs, squat down for photographs and simply do anything that is asked of them on this special evening. Their phones and cameras are out too, taking selfies with the athletes.
The morning of the opening ceremonies starts the Torch Run. The Torch Run is a venture undertaken by athletes and members of law enforcement to bring the torch through their respective regions eventually ending up at the Opening Ceremony in Trenton to light the Special Olympic Game Torch. The members of law enforcement, ranging from local police departments, county sheriffs, State Police, Port Authority Police Force and Military Police are also on hand to not only accompany each region onto the field, but line the field to give high fives and the often seen hug to the athletes. They remain a mainstay throughout the weekend to award the medals earned.
For our family, that means looking for and catching up with our favorite sergeant from the Port Authority Police Force, Rose. When our son first competed in the Special Olympics, she was the person who awarded him his first medal. She has made it a point to seek out Kyle and ensures that she is on hand to present his medal each and every year and to receive her big hug. This year, we also had the privilege of meeting her daughter, who was looking forward to finally meeting Kyle.
We thought our relationship with Rose was special and “our thing”. While it is special, Rose is no different than many of the other members of law enforcement who volunteer at the competition. I noticed multiple officers standing on their toes, craning their necks, looking for that special athlete that they have a bond with. Once they see each other, handshakes, high fives and hugs are exchanged.
While walking around on Saturday, we met a young sergeant from the Edison Police force. He explained that this was his first year being involved and he was part of the Torch Run Team from Edison. He could not believe the amount of people and the whole positive atmosphere present. He told us he would be back next year and will continue to be involved.
But back to the Opening Ceremony…. As the Somerset County Region Team made their way onto the field, the husband and wife duo that heads up that region were announced. They stood shoulder to shoulder, big smiles on their faces, leading their red shirted ribbon wearing team into the stadium. This year was going to be vastly different than any year prior for the couple. Their daughter, a Special Olympian in multiple disciplines was not there. You see, the ribbon each team member was wearing was in honor of that couples daughter. She lost her long fought battle with cancer and was laid to rest not even a week prior. While not being very close with this family, my family has known theirs for a very long time. I cannot fathom what they were feeling or going through, but they were there, supporting their special athletes and doing something that their daughter loved doing, being a Special Olympian.
This is just a small sampling of the kind of people who care and help people with special needs. When the photographers and writers from the Star Ledger or Trenton Times took photographs or asked questions, Moms, Dads, family members and friends backed away. They were not looking for their face in the paper or a pat on the back for doing something to help someone with special needs. They did it because it was the right thing to do. There are many heroes like this. The big difference is they do not have to remind people that they held fundraisers or helped, they simply do what has to be done.
Father, Brother and Nephew to Individuals with Special Needs