FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Special Olympics athletes, volunteers set the bar high

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

I had the honor this week of talking with two of the sheriff's deputies participating in a Special Olympics fundraiser. Both told me this annual event is something they really look forward to, and not just because they are helping a terrific cause. It's also because the Special Olympians, their families and volunteers help them tremendously. As one of the deputies said, "We see so much bad day in and day out. This organization and these athletes have a lot to teach the rest of us."

I must say I didn't know much about Special Olympics until my son began to participate when he was in school. Truthfully, I didn't know what to expect. I just knew that he looked forward to practices and events with such excitement and an attitude of camaraderie that I knew he was into something good.

The young athletes I met over the years were competitive, kind, dedicated and joyous -- no matter what the event or who won it. Former athletes were always on hand to cheer and help coach. The volunteers (coaches, organizers, scorekeepers) loved supporting the efforts of the Olympians. The athletic events, scattered throughout the year, were without exception fueled by competition, fun, sportsmanship and celebration.

Participating in Special Olympics helped build strong character qualities in my son. It helped him develop self-esteem, invaluable in a tough world that often doesn't value citizens that don't fall within "the norm." He is a better man today for having participated years ago. In fact, he still looks for opportunities to help coach younger athletes.

It's possible you'll see sheriff's deputies raising money for Special Olympics when you're out running errands one weekend. A recent event required deputies to walk handcuffed to treadmills for eight hours or until the donation goal was reached. There's been a Polar Plunge at Lake Lanier, a 9-mile run in Dalton, a softball tournament in Floyd County and a festival with pie throwing booths in Albany. "Cuffed for a Cause," "Cops on Doughnut Shops" and "Tip a Cop" are all fundraising initiatives you'll see throughout the year that help raise funds and awareness for Special Olympics.

The annual Law Enforcement Torch Run is a 1,000-mile, two-week, state-wide torch relay. It's the largest fundraiser for Special Olympics Georgia. Both the Gwinnett County police and sheriff's departments participate; both donations and volunteers help make these events successful.

If you've never had the privilege of being involved with Special Olympics, I encourage you to do so. The experience is life-changing, both for you and for the athletes.

Statistics indicate that 1 in 6 people in the U.S. is directly or indirectly impacted by Special Olympics. Do you have an experience to share?