In my line of work I occasionally get asked to do things most people never have the opportunity to do. I’ve judged food contests, interviewed celebrities (granted they’re B-list celebrities), and attended political rallies and sat with the national press. For those of you thinking, “Wow! You got to judge food contests,” all I can say is yes and they are my favorite. There is a lot more to a food judging contest than just eating a piece of pie or tasting a bowl of chili. I prefer to act like I know what I’m doing. I first make a visual inspection to see if it looks appetizing (and to make sure I’m not eating crickets or some other delicacy). Then I might sniff the food for aroma – if it smells spicy then I know I’m in for something good, unless it’s a pie contest.
This past week I received the biggest honor of my life – other than the honor of marrying my wife (biggest honor) and the honor of watching both of my daughters be born (second and third biggest honor, but I’m not saying which daughter was second or third). I was asked to participate in an exhibition basketball game with the Special Olympics basketball teams. The purpose was to show how a developmentally disabled person can work, play and contribute alongside everyone else in the community.
I had no idea what to expect, but I was hanging my hat on the promise I would only have to play one quarter, for which my out of shape derriere was grateful. These athletes had won state championships in the past and I was a little worried.
I looked at some of these athletes and I saw a desire in their eyes to compete and win. If they would have looked into my eyes they would have seen my desire to not pull a hamstring. I knew I was going to have a little problem even before the game started. (Here it comes! You should have expected this. I have an excuse for how poorly I played.) A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with arthritis and a bone spur in my right shoulder. I can barely raise my arm high enough to put on deodorant (I now put more on the left side and hope it covers the stink from the right side.) I’ve only had a few physical therapy sessions, but obviously not enough to play basketball. I felt a streak of pain shooting out of my shoulder as soon as I let go of my first shot. I went 0-4 on the night; unless it doesn’t count if you miss the backboard and rim.
After continuously running up and down the court I was completely drained and that was only one minute into the game. I decided I had better pace myself. For a two or three minute stretch they would take a shot and we’d get the rebound. We took a shot and they’d get the rebound. I would get about halfway down the court and our players would be passing me going the other way.
I realized I needed to step up my game a little when one of the athletes I was supposed to be guarding drained a three-pointer right in front of me. I made up my mind he wasn’t going to get that easy of a shot again. I was wrong. I definitely “got schooled” on the court. He made me look like I was moving in slow motion. He is young, quick and very athletic. I am old (if not the oldest person on the court I was in the top two or three) and slow (if not the slowest person on the court I was in the top two or three). I refuse to say I’m not athletic because in my aging mind I still have what it takes. The muscles and joints in my arms and legs disagree.
On a serious note – Just because someone looks, acts, or learns differently don’t think they don’t have value. A crisp $5 bill and a crumpled, stepped on, dirty $5 bill have the exact same value. The crisp $5 bill just hasn’t experienced everything the crumpled money has. “How dare you call them crumpled, stepped on and dirty,” you might say. I didn’t. In my mind a developmentally disabled person will always be the crisp $5 bill. If you’re lucky you will get two crisp bills that stick together.