Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Enthusiasm made
it a special day

IT was a day built on smiles. They were everywhere. They were in the pool. On the track. At the long jump pit. In the stands.

The athletes, yes, they were happy. They pumped their arms, and waved, and a few even hopped up and down with triumph. They got to strut and beam and cheer and win. It was a big day. A very big day.

But it was on other faces where the smiles were biggest and brightest. Parents. Fans. Coaches. Volunteers. These were the people who loved it the most. A few of the volunteers were positively glowing.

(Yes, the searing sun may have had something to do with that.)

But that's why they call these the Special Olympics. Somehow, these wonderful athletes are able to make everyone around them feel just great. And that's pretty special indeed.

The parking lots were full Saturday at Kaiser High School. People were buzzing and coming and going.

At the pool, there was constant clapping. On the track, there were high fives and hugs.

"Excellent!" and "Good job!" filled the air like oxygen.

"Thud!" went the shot put.

"Excellent!" went the judge.

Athletes wore the medals they won, even while competing. So at every turn walked by another Mark Spitz or Marion Jones.

At the finish line stood a group of people whose job it was to cheer the oncoming runners. They would clap, and yell encouragement, and greet and congratulate each runner as they came in.

So each contestant, as they toiled along, was running into the applause.

Isn't that great?

(Can you imagine what the world record would be if we employed this tactic at the Olympics?)

The only problem was that these people, well-intentioned as they were, would stand only about two feet from the finish line. And of course, the athletes have all been told by their coaches to run through the finish line. It was like Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy in The Muppet Movie, running slow motion into one another, turning an embrace into a delightful collision.

MY FAVORITE EVENT was the 50-meter dash.

At the beginning, the athletes are excited, nervous and happy.

At the end, they're greeted with congratulations at the finish line and waves and shouts from the stands.

In between, they run.

One man was older than most, his hair gray, his body not as strong as it once was. But he was out there, and his smile said he was ready to go.

He was off like a shot! Look at him go! Wow, he was fast.

By 20 meters he was pau. Spent. One by one they passed him, and he jogged into the cheers alone, in last place.

But his smile was even brighter, and he celebrated at the finish line like a young boy on the first day of summer.

He had done it. He had run, hard and fast and strong. He'd been winning, ahead by a mile, and felt the wind in his face and his body sprinting, even if only for a moment. He'd been running for joy like a young kid on a beautiful day.

The man's delight was eclipsed only by that of the volunteers who got to watch it. And congratulate him on a great race.

It was a day built on smiles.

Kalani Simpson's column runs Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.
He can be reached at

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