Inspiring Special Olympics Athletes Compete at the World Games

On the weekend of the 14th Special Olympics World Games, Edward Grinnan remembers his late, special needs brother.

Posted in , Jul 24, 2015

special olympics

This weekend Los Angeles celebrates the 14th Special Olympics World Games, held every two years (alternating between winter and summer) in addition to national Special Olympics competitions held in scores of countries all year long. There will be 7,000 athletes from 177 countries with varying mental and physical disabilities, who will compete in 27 different sports, from bocce to powerlifting.

Thinking of this awesome event and all of the inspiring athletes who will compete makes me remember Bobby.

If you’ve read my book, The Promise of Hope, you know Bobby was my Down syndrome brother who died at age 12 when I was nine. Until then he was always included in our various neighborhood games. Rule one: Bobby always got chosen first. Then the captains got down to the business of picking the best players. And since Bobby was actually pretty strong you had to be careful if you were playing football. He could hit hard though you kind of had to go to the ground with him because he had problems with his coordination and I didn’t want to be the one to come home and tell my parents that Bobby broke something trying to knock me on my butt.

When playing baseball, sometimes Bobby got four strikes. Maybe five. Or as many swings as it took him to put the ball in play when all us neighborhood kids were deep into a game of backyard wiffle ball on some timeless summer day. And sometimes, as Bobby ran a determined but often crooked route down the baseline, the fielder would muff the play, or bobble the ball or throw wildly across the diamond.

“Run, Bobby, run!” someone would scream even though he often missed the flattened cereal carton that served as first base as he rounded toward second. Other fielding blunders would ensue and Bobby ended up on third, pausing as long a necessary to catch his breath, then dashing home where the catcher (if the ball even got to him) would miss the tag. Another home run for Bobby Grinnan, the Babe Ruth of backyard Birmingham wiffle ball.

The point was, we always included Bobby and we made sure to make him feel included. He was one of the gang and that meant he got to play. And I think on some level we knew that this wasn’t the way it would always be for Bobby in the world. The rest of us would grow up and move on. He would always be trapped at the same mental age, with the same awkward gait and the innocent blue eyes that bulged a bit, marginalized by society at large. And certainly no one would have dreamed that he could ever be an Olympian.
I think Bobby would have been a Special Olympian if they’d had them back them. Actually the Special Olympics got its start at about the same time as Bobby was our reigning wiffle ball home run king, in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s backyard in Maryland, where she would host a sports summer camp for kids with special needs. Forty-five years later it is an international celebration of world-class athleticism, as intense a competition as anything covered by ESPN. In fact ESPN does cover the Special Olympics.

See if you can catch a couple of the events this weekend. In a world of zillionaire athletes who are treated like demi-gods, these competitors will melt your heart. I know I will be hearing myself yelling, “Run, Bobby, run!” 


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