Years ago, a friend of mine described the first time he ever volunteered for the Special Olympics.
He was working the gymnastics event at the old Sherman School in Walkerville, and a young girl started her routine on the balance beam, which was only a few inches off the ground.
One look at the determination of this girl got to my friend in a big way.
“I started balling,” he said.
I couldn’t even make fun of how easily a grown man could be brought to tears — or how he could talk about his crying while sitting on a bar stool at Maloney’s Bar. I could see the passion in his eyes as he talked about the Special Olympics. My eyes even started to tear up a little bit as he described the scene.
“Right then I said, ‘Son of a gun. You’ve got me for life’” he told me.
No matter his level of involvement each year, myW friend will always hold the Special Olympics and the Special Olympians close to his heart, and why wouldn’t he?
Really, there is nothing in life more beautiful than the Special Olympics and the athletes who compete.
You will not see them showing up their opponent. They will not get busted for performance-enhancing drugs. They will never cheat. They are true champions of sportsmanship in every way.
In a way, they represent everything sports should be.
If you don’t believe me, take legendary football coach Gene Stallings’ word for it. Stallings’s son Johnny was born with Down syndrome in 1962. Johnny died at the age of 46 nearly 10 years ago.
“The two saddest days of my life were when he was born and when he died,” Stallings told cnsnews.com after Johnny’s death. “When he was born, I was devastated, and when he died, I was even more devastated.”
When his son was born, Stallings didn’t understand the beauty of his special son. It didn’t take him long to see the light, however.
“Johnny was 46 years old and didn’t know a bad word,” Stalling said. “He saw the good in everyone. He loved going to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and he remembered everyone’s name.
“When we got to church, there would be 20 women lined up to give him a hug.”
About 25 years ago, I saw an interview on ESPN by another football coach who had a son with Down syndrome. I always thought it was Bobby Bowden, the legendary leader at Florida State, but I can’t find any information to back that up.
I remember what the coach said, though. He was talking about how his son had a football signed by Deion Sanders, a former FSU player who went on to be a Hall of Fame cornerback in the NFL.
This boy loved that football. He took it with him everywhere he went. He took it to school. He slept with the ball wrapped up in his arms.
One day, the boy had a friend over his house, and that boy said how much he liked the football.
Without batting an eye, the special boy extended his arms to give the football to his friend. He didn’t let him borrow it or hold it for a minute. He gave it to his friend.
The coach said his son was an example of a person who was 100 percent innocent, and he is right.
Not many people have a heart that big. Special Olympians do.
So many Special Olympians are just like that boy and like Johnny Stallings. They get to go through life full of love and without the burden of hate.
My friend and former Blaine Mustang speed skating teammate Amie Opie is like that. She rode her bike to a world championship at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
I brag about Amie’s title more than I brag about the Red Sox winning a World Series.
Whenever we go to Safeway, I check to see if Amie is working at the counter in the deli. If she is, I take my kids over so they can get a fist bump from a world champion.
Unlike my crying friend, though, I have never been a volunteer during the Special Olympics. I have donated money and I buy the raffle tickets every year. I have encouraged athletes and written about them.
But I have never been involved directly in the Special Olympics. Until now.
On Wednesday, I will be running in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Montana.
My good friend Eddi Walker invited me to be part of the relay team escorting the touch from Three Forks to Butte. Eddie is running 13 miles. I will be running as far as Eddie tells me to run.
It will be one of those rare opportunities in life when I get to run in front of a cop car and not get in trouble for it.
The goal of the Torch Run is to raise money and awareness of the Special Olympics movement worldwide, and you cannot find a better cause. The smiles on the athletes will tell you that.
It really is an honor to be part of something as great as the Special Olympics, and you can join me in the run. No, you don’t have run from Three Forks to Butte, which is pretty much all up hill, by the way.
You can join the team with your checkbook or with just a few clicks of you mouse. You don’t have to give a ton — though you are certainly welcome too. A couple of bucks can certainly go a long way for such a great cause.
You can donate online by clicking here. You can also send a check made out to Special Olympics Montana to me at 660 Dewey Blvd, Butte, MT, 59701.
You can still give even if you don’t like me, and for some reason there is a rather large group of people who fall under that classification. I don’t know why. They must be Yankees fans.
If that is the case, donate in honor of Eddie. Not only does she run for the Olympians every year, she is heavily involved in the Special Olympics. She is usually the one calling to tell me how well our local athletes are doing each year so they can get some much-deserved publicity.
If you don’t like Eddie, well, then there is something really wrong with you. But if you don’t, there is yet another reason to make a donation.
Do it in honor of my crying friend.
— Bill Foley, who also cries easily, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74