Thursday, June 21, 2007

Special Olympics

Four years ago today, June 21, 2003, I was with my family in Dublin, Ireland for the opening ceremonies of the 2003 International Special Olympic World Games. My sister, Mary Beth, was competing for the United States team as a bowler.

It was the first time the world games had been held outside of the United States. This year they will be in China. While there I made the film, what's two +three? about our experience growing up with Mary Beth. For those of you interested in knowing more about the film, click on the link on the right side of the page. This post is mostly here to share moments that didn't make news in the U.S.

The World Games brought together 5,000 athletes and 30,000 family members from around the world. It was the biggest conference ever held in Ireland. The opening ceremonies attended by 70,000 people was the highest rated TV show in Ireland ever. 10 days later the closing ceremonies became their second highest rated TV program. Each night on TV there was an hour long recap of the days events and you couldn't lift a pint of Guiness without running into Pierce Brosnan or Colin Farrell.

Across the country and into Northern Ireland (the U.S. team spent a week in Belfast prior to the opening ceremonies, and then had a parade at Disney World on their return) the Irish people reached out to athletes. Many times we would be in a restaurant and spontaneous cheering would erupt because a Special Olympian had entered. I remember wishing we could capture that spirit and bring it back to the states,where we were a few months into a war that continues.

Some personal highlights:

1) Bono, Nelson Mandela, my sister and Muhammed Ali being at the same place at the same time.

2) Realizing that as a country Ireland had to build a natatorium- a fancy word for a swimming pool- for the games as well as a bowling alley.

3) Listening to the massive ovation from 70,000 people when the 15 Iraqi Special Olympians entered the stadium during the opening ceremonies.

4) Watching Mary Beth win a silver medal in bowling and on the podium put her arm around the gold medalist and cheer her.

I just thought I would share.



Rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rose said...

I agree with the lovely reception the people of Ireland gave the Special Olympians. One of my favorite collective highlights was watching the runner-up Olympians be so quick and sincere in applauding the winners even though it meant they themselves did not get the gold.

Layla (aka Barbara) said...

I had another blog friend write a post about her sister in the Special Olympics yesterday. Its the only time you will see competitors actually HELPING their opponents if they fall or something. We could learn a lot from that.