Meet Kristin and Donna – two women in their mid-40s. They’re also Special Olympics athletes that compete on my sons’ team.
Recently, they reminded a whole lot of people about the importance of expectations. And the value of human potential.
Yes, both have an intellectual disability like the majority of my six children.
But I’m not talking about throwing a pity party and lowering expectations – or forgetting them altogether. Rather, I’m talking about raising expectations to a reasonable level – one that is attainable. Thus creating an opportunity for success.
While raising self-esteem in the process.
I’ve coached Kristin and Donna for a number of years in Special Olympics. From that experience I understand their strengths, as well as their ongoing challenges. I realize, too, the marginalization which they’ve endured.
The feeling of being left out. The feeling of no one noticing. The feeling of bullying. The feeling of wondering why.
Without question, the two listen to my constructive feedback and want to please. They recently completed their third 3K walk this season – a distance just under two miles. More impressively, they showed consistent improvement in each subsequent race – lowering their respective times by nearly 10 minutes.
That’s a huge accomplishment that didn’t come easily. They practiced diligently for three months. They took their weekly training sessions with me seriously. They remained determined when progress slowed on a number of hot summer days.
Most importantly, they wanted to prove something to others and especially themselves. They could walk the 3K unassisted, without help from anyone.
And the two did just that.
Adding to the challenge is their balance. Neither is 100% stable; but over the course of 45 minutes, they navigated uneven ground on isolated wooded trails and climbed a number of hills, including a massive one near the end of race with a 40 degree incline.
Twice Kristen fell. Twice she got up and continued.
When they passed me at the 2K mark, both Kristen and Donna asked while breathing heavily, “Am I doing OK?”
They wanted to know. They deserved to be acknowledged.
“You’re doing great. Stay focused. Keep using your arms,” I said.
“I’m proud of you.”
With sincere reinforcement and specific direction, they trudged ahead – one foot in front of the other until they crossed the finish line. No need for extensive applause. They knew the obvious. They had overcome their fears once again and completed a race that many assumed wouldn’t be possible.
“We showed them!”
Through my own father’s example, I’ve always believed in the underdog. For years I’ve witnessed the untapped potential in countless individuals. I’ve felt their desire to overcome.
And I was the right person at the right time to challenge Kristin and Donna. I wasn’t their parent. I wasn’t a person with any real authority over them. I wasn’t someone they disliked.
I was simply a person who believed in them. A man who saw their worth. A coach who cared.
Over the years I have watched many committed people work similar magic with my children, when they wouldn’t – or couldn’t – take advice from me. Not in a thousand years.
Yet they desperately needed to connect with someone who had their best interests in mind and heart. Someone whom they could trust. Someone who reminded them of their worth. Someone who valued their potential. And finally, someone who stayed involved when the relationship seemed to be falling apart. At the end of the day, every human needs that.
They wouldn’t – or couldn’t – take advice from me.
In other words, I was grateful and now willingly returned the favor.
No doubt, this cycle of “give and take” is essential to nurturing. Take when necessary. Give back whenever possible.
It’s how we survive. It’s how we grow. It’s how we raise expectations – when supporting children or adults, particularly those on the fringes of society. And definitely the ones with early trauma, attachment issues, PTSD, exposure to alcohol in the womb (FASD) or any other disability.
Secondary benefits to the family become obvious too. In the case of my kids, they truly want others like them to experience the same connection that special people made them feel.
Watching my sons be patient with their Special Olympics teammates and bring out their personal best is uplifting. Their behavior is infectious. No one is immune. Everyone benefits in the end.
Not surprisingly, Kristin and Donna are looking forward to next year’s distance season. In fact, Donna made her intentions known right after the medal ceremony.
“I want to do the 5K next year.”
A reasonable expectation that is attainable.
And as her coach, I have no doubts that she will conquer her ambitious goal. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold