The 2014 Winter Olympics recently concluded and people around the world were cheering for their favorite athletes competing in a myriad of sports. Our family is fortunate to have our own Olympian. Adam, who has autism and hypotonia, has been competing in our local Special Olympics since he was 6 years old. Memories of teaching him how to wind up his arm for the tennis ball throw and practicing for the 25 yard assisted walk flood my mind like it was yesterday instead of almost 20 years ago!
One particular year stands out among the many years of attending these fun-filled, motivational events. A local university had sent several members of its football team to assist the athletes in their various events. If you’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Adam, he’ll be the first to admit that he is not football player material. Adam had turned 12 the previous December and IF we put rocks in his jean pockets, he might tip the scale at 50 pounds at this age. (Just call him the Lean Machine!) On this day, it wasn’t that Adam cleaned up in the gold medal category or that he achieved a new physical feat that we had been hoping and praying for after years of physical therapy. No, on this particular beautiful spring day, Adam taught me a lesson about confidence and love.
The Olympic athletes and local university football players stood in the center of our high school football field and everyone in the bleachers stood proudly as The Star Spangled Banner was played by the high school band. As soon as the final note of our national anthem rang out, the crowd of people erupted with clapping and happy shouts of “yayyyyy!” and there in the middle of the field standing in the center of the front row of athletes, a little blond-headed boy stepped confidently out from the line and put his right hand over his stomach and placed his left hand behind his back and bowed a very deep bow. The kind of bow a concert pianist takes as soon as he has concluded a masterful performance at Carneige Hall. The kind of bow his first music teacher had taught him to take after he finished playing his piano recital piece. Yes, Adam thought the thunderous applause was for him instead of a long-standing tradition at the conclusion of our beautiful national anthem.
It struck me much later that shortly after receiving the diagnosis of autism when he was 3 years old, I held our floppy, low-muscle toned toddler in front of a mirror and said, “If I teach you nothing else, I will teach you to love yourself.” What a profound lesson to learn! I wonder how many of us, myself included, travel through this adventure called life and sometimes forget to do what Adam did that day—believe that he is wonderful and worthy of love.
Today and every day, let’s remember to love ourselves because we are, indeed, beautiful! And, when no one is looking, take a bow!