A few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or
mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they
all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish
All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of
times and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked
back. They all turned around and went back. Every one of them.
One girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, "This will make
All nine linked arms and walked across the finish line together.
Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who
were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing:
What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves.
What truly matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down
and changing our course.
Addendum to this story:
Origins: The story is more true than
not, although its primary point has been grossly exaggerated. According to
folks at the Special Olympics Washington office, the incident happened at a
1976 track and field event held in Spokane, Washington. A contestant did
take a tumble, and one or two of the other athletes turned back to help the
fallen one, culminating in their crossing the finish line together, but it
was only one or two, not everyone in the event. The others continued to run
The story is thus not about an entire class of "special people" who
spontaneously tossed aside their own dreams of going for gold in favor of
helping a fallen competitor, but rather one about a couple of individuals
who chose to go to the aid of another contestant. Unfortunately, this tale
as it is now being told helps further a stereotype that deficiencies in
intelligence are compensated for by unfailingly sweet natures and a way of
looking at the world in childlike wonder. Special Olympians train long and
hard for their events and are every bit as committed as athletes who compete
in any other athletic endeavors. The Special Olympics are not a casual
get-together organized to give less fortunate members of the community a day
to socialize and perhaps run in a foot race or two. They're highly organized
sporting events taken very seriously by all involved, with each competitor
striving to do his best. It's about trying. And succeeding.
The Special Olympics oath is "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be
brave in the attempt."