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The Road to State

Sarah Barr is SOMO’s marketing intern this summer.

I have been around the Special Olympics organization for several years as a volunteer, coach, and now as an intern.  My high school hosted a yearly soccer tournament, and after watching my first Special Olympics soccer game I was hooked.  When I moved to Columbia to attend Mizzou, I joined the Central Area Special Olympics family.  I coach basketball and track, and love every second.

Now I’ll admit, I did not understand how important the State Summer Games were when I started coaching.  I thought the athletes might view it as just another day of sports to pile atop their seemingly endless succession of practices and tournaments. However, one of the athletes on my track and basketball team showed me how incredibly wrong I was.

Michael is a passionate athlete, an extremely thoughtful person, and even happens to have an insatiable interest in nature (example – he brought a plastic jar to every track practice to catch bugs).  He is easily coached and always wanted to work harder, whether it meant scrimmaging after the other athletes (and admittedly, coaches) were tired or joining another team to do sprints.  As great of a basketball player Michael is, his true passion lies in bowling.

Enjoying the Opening Ceremony

Michael is one of those guys who speaks when spoken to.  With that said, when Michael speaks – you listen.  One practice in mid-January, Michael was dribbling the ball down the court when he suddenly stopped, looked up with bright eyes, and exclaimed how excited he was about his upcoming bowling tournament.  I assumed it was the coming weekend or sometime soon, but I found out it was actually in March – over a month and a half away.  [Can you imagine if we all cherished activities in our lives as much as Michael? … Some food for thought.]

The bowling tournament Michael was so excited about turned out to be the determinant of who would go to State.  I could not attend the tournament myself as it was in St. Joe and I am on a college student’s budget, so the following was recounted to me by an AMAZING woman from the Columbia Parks and Recreations agency, Jody Cook.

Michael had delivered a strong performance at the tournament. When the time came to hand out awards, he knew he might have a chance to win gold, and ultimately, a spot at the State Summer Games.  He stood with the other bowlers, anxiously awaiting the results.  The bronze was given, leaving just him and one other bowler.  When the announcer stated that the other bowler had won silver, Michael incredulously staggered towards the stage, beaming his million dollar smile.  Now, please recall that Michael rarely speaks without being addressed.  When he got to the awards area to receive his gold medal, he looked out at the crowd and stated “This is the best day of my life!”

Perhaps you have to know Michael personally, but this story gives me goosebumps.  What an awesome moment! It showed me how important the State Summer Games were to the athletes.

A few frames prior to winning!

So, with that understanding, I headed to my home-away-from-home (Mizzou) to spend it with my other family (SOMO Athletes), and I was not disappointed.  The athleticism, the laughter, the joy – I couldn’t turn around without seeing all three.  The athletes worked hard and wore their accumulation of medals with immense pride.  But the best moment at the State Summer Games for me, personally, was when I got to watch Michael bowl his way to a gold medal.  He exuded pride.  His feeling of accomplishment was mirrored by the other athletes around him, and their smiles were infectious.  In fact, I am smiling as I type this just thinking about it!

You have read about two very different roads to state – Michael’s story of gold medals and pride, and mine of life lessons. I encourage you all to pave your own road.  I hope you have someone like Michael to call your friend, and if not, I encourage you to volunteer at a Special Olympics event soon!  The State Summer Games are not just another tournament – they’re a celebration of the journey.