The field is abuzz with activity, as media trucks gather and high school students and organizers take to the grounds to lay out equipment, set up refreshment tables, make sure wheelchair ramps are in place and do a thousand other important pre-event activities. The sun is shining and temperatures begin to warm up – there’s not a hint of a cloud in the sky. The golf cart is brought to the field and takes a test turn around the track. Checklists are considered, and busses begin to rumble in, dispensing loads of excited student athletes, all wearing coordinating T-shirts, eager to take to the field and take part in friendly competition.
There are wheelchairs, walkers, children partnered with buddies, kids wearing headphones to block out the noise, kids over-excited, kids overwhelmed, kids who are happy.
It’s going to be, God willing, a great, great day.
Competition begins, as schools are guided to their events – a 100 m dash, a ball toss, a standing long jum, and other activities scattered around the field. There are winners’ podiums set up at every event, as students get first, second, third, fourth and fifth place ribbons. The smiles on their faces as their peers cheer for their victories are tear-inducing. Nobody loses. Everyone wins.
Just being here today is a victory.
This is the annual Little Feet Meet, a one-day athletic event sponsored by our local Special Olympics chapter and held at Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond, Virginia for disabled (or differently-abled, if you will) elementary school students.
This is, for our family and hundreds of others, one of the greatest days of the year.
Home Recovering, There in Spirit
Lil D is not competing today. He is home recovering from a 24-hour hospital stay, where he underwent several tests and some procedures under general anesthesia. Often, for autistic kids, routine things like dental exams and cleanings, fixing cavities or doing multiple blood draws can only be done under anesthesia. So, when Lil D’s doctors scheduled certain tests for him, I took the opportunity to coordinate with his dentist and pediatrician to do other procedures that we had been putting off.
Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God), things went smoothly. I was pretty nervous going into it – how would Lil D handle everything? This is a kid who balks at entering his pediatrician’s office, though we have worked on routines to ease him into there for years now. A white doctor’s coat puts him on guard. This was our first overnight stay in the hospital with him.
We are really blessed and lucky, in that way, that with my husband’s behind the scenes maneuvering (How many times did I say to him – you talk to that nurse. I’m not getting anywhere. Throw your doctor’s weight around.) to smooth things out. Hey, you do what you have to do for your kid.
Nothing is ever easy with our autistic children, and that’s part of autism awareness too (it’s still April, it’s still autism awareness month). Routine doctor’s appointments, seeing specialists, dentist appointments, eye exams – just these seemingly regular tasks can become herculean efforts for our kids. And, that’s not even breaking the surface of all the research and biomedical treatments that many parents of autistic children pursue.
I tell myself these words: It is what it is. (Profound, right?) Every parent has stuff they must manage for their children. Give thanks for what you have (and believe me, I know we are blessed with a lot), take it one day at a time, know that it’s ok to be angry and sad, and keep moving on. Relish the good days – like today’s Little Feet Meet.
We Are All Champions
So, we are not there, but we are picturing it in our mind’s eye, and we are smiling. Before Lil D’s classmates even go to the meet, they are honored at a special rally with the whole school. The students go up on stage, and the whole school cheers for them. (Last year each class in Lil D’s school lined the hall, and Lil D and his fellow athletes marched through the halls, holding a torch, receiving high fives from their classmates. Now that’s a school community!)
They get to the meet and take their place in the stands for opening ceremonies. Representatives from each school sit in the golf cart, and they take a turn around the track during opening ceremonies – a special version of the Parade of Athletes. Sanjay* is representing from Lil D’s school today. (I wrote about Sanjay in my post on “Autism, Inclusion and the Winter Concert.”) He and Lil D have been classmates for five years in the autism classroom at their school.
This is the last Little Feet meet for about five kids, including Lil D, in his class – they are all heading off to different middle schools next year. His teacher and I get a little choked up thinking about it.
So, although Lil D did not be compete today, our hearts are on the field with his teammates, as the torch makes its way around the track, as buddies help their teammates compete, as kids take to the podiums and ribbons are handed out, as parents take pictures and videos and enjoy one of the best days of the school year.
*Name changed to protect the child.