In the world of Special Olympics, we’re accustomed to the trauma of physical challenges and even more, the trauma of social injustice. Intellectual differences sometimes come accompanied by physical pain and worse, with exclusion and ridicule and name calling. The trauma can often be sharp and lasting.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years watching our athletes, it’s that healing is always possible. No matter how many times the world has said “no” to us, it’s still worth trying to assert our own “yes” to the future and to each other. That’s the message I saw last month in Aaron Banda who despite years of untreated seizures caused by cerebral malaria, is now playing football (soccer) and going to school. That’s the message I saw in DJ Ficca who has been battered by infection and misdiagnoses but who showed up for our recent Special Olympics Unified Game all smiles and enthusiasm. I’ve seen it over and over again in our athletes: undeterred by trauma, they rise above it with grit and confidence.
But last week, I received a note that nothing in my experience prepared me for. In recent months, Special Olympics leaders from throughout the USA have been teaming up with new organizations like Team RWB (Red, White, and Blue) who are composed of military veterans who still want to serve the highest ideals of freedom and justice even though their days in uniform have passed. One such soldier took the time to write after his day volunteering.
He asked that his name not be used but gave us permission to share his words. They need no introduction.
“I just wanted you to know that I recently returned from Afghanistan late last year, that was my first tour there but I have done 2 in Iraq. I have been seeing a doctor for PTSD, I saw 2 different events that really bothered me and I had a hard time grasping why. The Taliban used young kids and adults with disabilities to harm us. They look at people with disabilities as sub human and the way they deal with them is to strap explosives on them and then have them come to our formations and then someone detonates their vest. I felt that if I volunteered that it would help me get over this obstacle in my life and get back to being “healed”. So on Friday I was completely terrified and scared to come but I wanted to let you know that this has helped me in ways that you will never know! This is the best thing I have done in my life to help get back on track! Once again thank you for all your help and letting us do this not only for my personal benefit but for a way for us (Service Members) to give back to the community.”
We have all had moments of trauma in life but few of us, thank God, have suffered the way veterans of war have suffered. But for those of us in any country who enjoy freedom, our thanks remain with those who have given so much for us. This soldier not only risked his life and no one can repay him that sacrifice. But he also shared the gift of his own healing and for that, I am grateful again. With his example, perhaps we can all find the strength to overcome whatever terrifies and scares us and take the risks to find the “best thing” for each of us.
From all of us at Special Olympics, I want to thank this one soldier for helping us all get our lives back “on track”—the track of hope, the track of healing.