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A Special Group of Athletes

Team Davis handing off in the 4x400m men's relay

It’s a scorching central valley Summer day.  The thermometer reads 104.  You can see the heat rising off the ground.  People all around me are practically melting – fanning themselves and pouring cups of cool water on their head to cool off.   Why are we all torturing ourselves in the heat?

We are gathered at Toomey field on the UC Davis campus to help support a very important Northern California event: The NorCal Special Olympics.  Our discomfort is nothing compared to how these athletes must feel after giving it their all, yet despite the daunting heat, the athletes seem un-phased – just happy to be there, focused on their race and ready to do their best.  Wow, how I commend them for their dedication in such weather!

Athletes from as far as Tulare county and as close as Davis came together to compete in Track and Field and tennis events Fri – Sunday, June 25-27th.   Men and women of all ages and abilities brought brought their “A game” to their events.  In addition to the traditional events, such as the 100m sprint, 400m sprint, long jump, and relay events, the Special Olympics also make space for a few events suited for the unique population that participates, such as the assisted 50m walk.

athletes brave the heat in the assisted walking event

As a volunteer timer for the track and field, I was fortunate enough to see the activity front and center.  While on first glance this event may have appeared to look like any ordinary track meet, a closer look revealed something much more powerful than just the competitive spirit.  These athletes, while they may have been out to win, were also out to have fun and genuinely support one another – even if that meant cheering wildly for one’s competitor to win.

It was a touching reminder to me that competition does not have to be exclusionary, but can be inclusive and done with good sportsmanship.  It seemed that just being a part of the Special Olympics was the big win for many of these athletes, as demonstrated by the many jubilant smiles I was able to see when the athletes crossed the finish line.  The elation in their voices as they cheered on teammates and other athletes was contagious.  I don’t think there was a member of the crowd or the crew that weren’t cheering with jubilation for each athlete, regardless of how they placed.

I’m grateful to have spent a few hours learning so much about what really matters in the competitive spirit from this experience.    These athletes exuded sportsmanship and gratitude like I’ve never seen.  I hope to participate again next year, and will definitely bring more sunscreen and a few tissues for the emotional moments I witnessed.

Grad student volunteers (I'm in the middle)

A special thanks to Panda Express for generously providing free lunch to all the volunteers (and there were lots of us: Grad Students from UC Davis, Kohl’s employees, Walmart employees, Kaiser Permanente employees, etc.).  I  appreciated the whole grain granola bar, apple and bottled water in my lunch package .  If you’d like to know more about the Special Olympics of Northern California, click here.

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