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By Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
NEW PORT RICHEY -- I took one look at the ominous sky Thursday morning and thought, "Well, this is going to be a wash."
The local weather forecasters confirmed my suspicion with their predictions: 40 percent chance of rain, light to moderate showers on and off all day.
My date with the Pasco County Special Olympics - this year as a volunteer and a staff writer for the Times - would surely be canceled. After all, it looked like rain, smelled like rain and the roads were already damp from a light sprinkling. It could only get worse.
Seems I forgot about the silver lining.
Val Lundin, who coordinates the Pasco County Summer Special Olympics and works as an adaptive physical education teacher at Cotee River Elementary School, reminded me about that when I showed up with umbrella in hand at the community volunteer table.
"I went to the school and watched Doppler radar. Then I packed everything up and headed here," Lundin said, in between doling out bright orange Special Olympics T-shirts to volunteers and giving last-minute instructions on the opening ceremonies in the River Ridge Middle/High School stadium.
"This is the first thing I unpacked and put on the table," she said, pointing to a tube of Coppertone Sport Sunscreen, SPF 48. "Then I left it all up to the kids like I always do. I'm telling you - they have the power to stop the rain."
Maybe it's just coincidence, but then again, perhaps there's something to that.
After all, this is the 23rd year that Lundin has been working the summer games, and in all that time, they have never been rained on. And Thursday would be no exception.
Sure, there have been threatening skies some years, but for whatever reason, the rain has always held off till the ribbons are all handed out.
Just like the 915 or so special athletes who showed up on Thursday, along with their families, the volunteers and all those folks who work with these kids day after day to bring out the best in them.
Spend a little time with a crowd like that and you tend to get a new kind of perspective.
Take Daniel Miley, 22, who was scheduled to compete in the softball throw and 50-meter walk. "This is the greatest day of my life! I just prayed to the Lord that it wouldn't rain and I thanked him for answering my prayers," he told me as I turned a wary eye upward. "I just come here to have fun, and rock and roll."
Makes you kind of want to do the same.
And Jim Johnson, an adaptive physical education teacher from Hudson High who's been doing this for more than 20 years. He was in charge of the novice volunteers, including me, who were there to help run the soccer skills games.
"Don't worry. It always starts out chaotic, but then it comes together," he assured me. "It always does."
He was right about that.
Really, who couldn't help but smile when catching sight of 7-year-old Jacob Peckam's grin after he received his blue ribbon - the one he told his teachers from the beginning he would win.
Or tear up along with Rhonda Smith, whose 9-year-old daughter, Katelynn, is 50 percent developmentally disabled, which means she is more like a child age 4 or 5. While Katelynn was eating lunch with her classmates from Northwest Elementary, Smith was busy cheering on kids who were competing in soccer skills, where I was working as a volunteer.
"Which kid are you cheering for?" I asked.
"All of them," she said. "I don't know these kids, but they all have name tags on their backs. The more people that root for them, the better their day is. It makes them feel good."
That, too, can be contagious.
The Special Olympics, it turns out, are all about what you can do, not what you can't. It's where you can learn something about celebrating big strides no matter their measure. It's about knowing for sure that it's not going to rain, even when the skies say otherwise.
And it's about remembering to search out, and maybe even find, that silver lining.
HOW TO HELP
Take some time to volunteer at games
Volunteers are needed for the Special Olympics Summer Games scheduled for March 1 (track, soccer skills and bocci) at Lakewood High in Pinellas County; March 22 (team soccer) at Land O'Lakes High; and April 1 (cycling) at Cotee River Elementary in New Port Richey. For information or to sign up, call Val Lundin at (727) 774-3062.
[Last modified February 22, 2008, 00:16:36]