“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
— Special Olympics athletes’ oath
The Special Olympics State Games are June 24-26 at the Ohio State University. The above oath is repeated by all athletes at the opening ceremonies and at the beginning of every athletic competition. Make no mistake, every athlete wants to win – but more importantly, they want to compete at their highest level.
I began coaching Special Olympic athletes over 10 years ago in Worthington. Two of my sons were involved with the gymnastics team, and I used to watch as they coached their athletes – Jack and Kieran. It was probably inevitable that I would get pulled in when the team needed more coaches.
I began coaching Carly, and the first year was interesting. The head coach had a simple philosophy: The members of the team are gymnasts and athletes and are to be treated that way. The words “I can’t” were banned, and the goal was always to work on the next skill until it was mastered. That said, gymnastics is not an easy sport. It requires strength, balance and lots of practice. Female gymnasts learn routines on four apparatus. Male gymnasts learn on six apparatus. To anyone who thinks it’s easy, I challenge you to jump on a balance beam four feet off the ground or to learn floor routines for either athlete.
Over the years my athletes have inspired me. I began coaching with the hope that I’d have an impact on them, and I believe I have. What I know for sure, though, is that they have had, and continue to have, a major impact on me and my family.
I’ve also met an amazing group of young folks (well, younger than me) who volunteer their precious time to coach. Some became involved because family members were athletes. Some became involved to fulfill volunteer hours, and some became involved because a friend invited them. They started coaching in junior high or high school and continued until graduation, in some cases coming back each spring and summer to continue or renew relationships with athletes and their families. And it is the relationships that are so rewarding. When I moved to Delaware, I continued to coach with Worthington. In 2012 I was asked to build new relationships and step in as head coach for the Delaware County Special Olympics gymnastics team. What an opportunity! Since then, I’ve tried to keep the philosophy that the words “I can’t” have no place in a gym.
As the years go by, I am in awe of how my athletes grow. Just like them, Special Olympics has grown and prospered. Similar to the quadrennial Olympics held all over the world, the Special Olympics sees serious competition, fierce determination, camaraderie and heart. We even have our own torch to signify the start of the summer games. For 30 years, law enforcement all over the country have participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run. This year, the torch run will be in Delaware County on Friday, June 24, with officers from the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, the Delaware Police Department, the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Delaware post and the Powell Police Department. They’ll start at the sheriff’s office at 10 a.m. The final leg will depart from the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy at 6:30 p.m. and travel the 3.2-mile route to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, where more than 8,000 athletes, coaches, families and spectators are waiting for the official start of the games as the torch is passed to the athletes. Believe me, it’s something to see!
In Delaware County, gymnastics is just one of 11 sports offered, and there are more than 270 athletes participating countywide. Thirty-eight of these athletes will represent Delaware County at the Summer Games. Their coaches will be beside them, high-fiving after something good; hugging when things didn’t go as planned. Families and friends will be cheering them on every step of the way.
So if you have a few hours the weekend of June 24-26, take a ride to OSU and show support these phenomenal athletes.
And to all the athletes from Delaware County – Go Racers! Go Delaware!
Carol O’Brien is the Delaware County prosecutor.