The motivational phrase, “It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you keep getting up,” was made famous by Col. George A. Custer. It’s now a mantra lived out in real life by the Special Olympics organization. A year ago, the local chapter had to discontinue operations after financial problems plagued the organization on a national scale. Without the resources to stage competitions, there seemed little choice but to shut the doors. However, Special Olympics rose to the challenge like Rocky Balboa, and with the help of some very generous volunteers and donors, once again is supporting local Special Olympics athletes.
Canceling the 2018 and 2019 Special Olympics Summer Games was devastating to the intellectually disabled that had trained so hard to compete in their chosen sport. Parents, siblings, friends, and communities were horrified as tears streamed down the faces of contestants that were shocked with the news. Broken-hearted special needs athletes hung their heads in utter disbelief. The situation felt helpless.
Angry and confused parents and donors insisted on an official investigation into the sudden and shocking financial collapse of the organization. Soon auditors got to work and scrutinized the books. They did find shortcomings in the prior management’s financial reporting and policies but ultimately determined there was no fraud involved. The failures were unintentional, but the effects were just as devastating. Special Olympics handed the auditor’s report over to the Oregon Department of Justice, which may review the matter further and confirm the auditor’s findings.
Last winter, the Portland chapter felt that they needed to do something big to show the athletes and the community that the organization still existed. They decided to proceed with the annual Polar Plunge in the Columbia River, in which participants dive into the river and other local bodies of water during the dead of winter. They collectively crossed their fingers and were thrilled when a record 2,700 people took part in the event! They raised an incredible $350,000, a clear sign of support from the community, and a sign to move forward.
With the past in the distance and a bright future on the horizon due to generous donors, contestants from eight years old to well over sixty, are smiling once again. They’re celebrating with happy dances and high-fives, as well as commencing with training for their sport. Amongst them is Jordon Webster, who has autism. Jordan is the son of Rob and Noni Webster, who work as volunteer managers for the local chapter. They are thrilled to be working diligently to secure the future of the Special Olympics Games for their son and all of the other precious athletes.
The goal of the local chapter is to raise $20,000 to $30,000 through private donations this year to support area athletes in Clatsop County and beyond. There are many Special Olympic athletes in surrounding coastal areas as well, such as Ocean Park and Nehalem. Their exact location doesn’t matter. What matters is seeing their faces light up as they build self-confidence and make new friends at the games.
Since all of the staff are volunteers, and they no longer have an office building, 100% of donations goes towards needed equipment, coaching, facilities, transportation, and uniforms. One of the organizations recent big fundraisers was the Astoria Regatta Parade. Astoria Regatta is an annual event, now in its 125th year, that includes parades, parties, boats, movies in the park, music and a fireworks display. The funds raised are desperately needed and will support local Special Olympic contestants of all ages.
The Special Olympic coaches promote the philosophy of “Training for Life.” Indeed, there are many valuable lessons learned through participating in sports. Competitors have to learn to listen to feedback, work as a team, take constructive criticism, deal with frustration, social pressure, and expectations. One of their favorite sayings is, “Let me win. If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It takes courage to compete in any sport, regardless of mental capacity and ability.
Another goal of the local Special Olympics chapter is to support the efforts of up to 300 athletes. That’s an ambitious goal, but definitely doable. It will require the support of the community in terms of donations and volunteers. It will take diligence, hard work, commitment, and collaboration, all things they try to teach their Special Olympians. There are lessons to be learned for everyone involved. Isn’t that the process of life as we know it?