What is it that makes a good athlete
a great athlete ---strength,
agility, endurance? Perhaps. But what about traits of character
such as perseverance, commitment, and determination-are they not
at least equally important? Think of Bruce Jenner, Carl Lewis,
Florence Joyner, Michael Johnson, Bo Jackson, Cheryl Swoop and
Michael Jordan? Is it physical strength or strength of character
that carried them to the top of their game? Lance Armstrong battled
the perils of cancer and went on to win the Tour de France more
than once. Was it merely physical capabilities that propelled
him to such greatness, or is the common denominator of great athletes
found in the testament of something else---something from which
everything else evolves. Not sure? Keep reading---you just might
find the answer.
On April 26 and 27, the Naval Academy will host its 35th annual
Naval Academy Games, also known as the Spring Games for Special
Olympics Anne Arundel County. "This is a large, two-day event
sponsored by the Annapolis Jaycees and hosted by the Naval Academy,"
says Gregg Meade, area director, Special Olympics Anne Arundel
The festivities begin early Saturday morning as the athletes make
their grand entrance, accompanied by the Naval Academy Band, thus
kicking off a commencement celebration reminiscent of any great
sporting event. There's the national anthem, speeches by dignitaries,
and an ardent reciting of the athletes' oath, "Let me win, but
if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." This is the
foundation on which Special Olympics is grounded and a motto by
which each athlete lives daily.
The commencement ceremonies are followed by the day's aquatic
events. "This year we expect over 100 swimmers," says Meade. And
swim they will, giving heart and soul as they race diligently
against their competitors and their own personal challenges until
they reach that finish line. Cheered on by family, friends and
a crowd of spectators, the energy of the moment invigorates the
athletes and the onlookers. All are overcome with adrenaline and
uninhibited excitement when seemingly impossible tasks are performed
not only with tenacity and stamina but with pride and spirit.
On Sunday, the competition continues with a day of track and field
"The athletes love the fact that the games are held at the Academy
and they look forward to it with great anticipation," Meade says.
"One of the highlights for the athletes is that they are teamed
up with their own midshipman who escorts him or her throughout
the entire day." The midshipman makes sure the athlete gets to
events on time, eats a nutritious meal and, of course, the mid
cheers them on. "The athletes just love it, " says Meade. "And
so do the midshipmen." Some have really bonded and formed friendships
that last long beyond their years at the Naval Academy. "It's
truly a rewarding experience for everyone." There's also food
and awards ceremonies, everything that makes a sporting event
great fun for all.
Prior to the games, the athletes and coaches commit themselves
to a rigorous training schedule during which they work diligently,
following the guidelines mandated by Special Olympics International.
Athletes from this event can qualify to compete in the State Games
at the University of Maryland, and then gold medal winners at
the state level qualify to take their talent to Ireland for the
World Games in July.
On top of their game, SOAAC is a non-profit organization that
offers year-round sports training events and competitions free
of charge for children and adults with mental retardation or closely
related developmental disabilities. "Currently we have 300 athletes
and about 120 coaches and volunteers who work on a regular year
'round basis," Meade says. "I could not do my job without the
help and support of my management team." All positions at the
county level (including Meade's) are unpaid.
Funding is provided solely through fundraising, grants and private
donations. "Our community is extremely supportive of Special Olympics
and for that we are grateful. We always manage to meet our budget
requirements," says Meade. SOAAC fundraisers include the South
River Golf Tournament, a Blues Festival at Sandy Point State Park,
the annual Polar Bear Plunge, a 5K Halloween run, and basket bingo.
Meade became involved with SOAAC nearly 10 years ago as a coach
when his own son, Nicholas, became an athlete. His wife Martha
is also very active with the organization. They both agree that
it's the most rewarding thing they have ever done. "I'm constantly
in awe of what these individuals overcome to do the things they
do," says Martha. "They never cease to amaze me."
The inspiration that radiates from the Special Olympics athlete
goes much deeper than sports---it's a philosophy for life. "I've
learned so much just from being around these incredible people,"
says Meade. "They can teach us so many things, like humility.
We often choose not to try something because we think we may embarrass
ourselves, but those thoughts never enter the minds of these individuals.
They just think, 'I want to try that,' and they do."
Meade continues, "They also teach us perseverance. Even though
we may not be the best at something, it should not keep us from
doing it." The Meades share a personal testimony involving their
son Nicholas during a qualifying run for the Winter Games 100-meter
downhill race. "It was very slick and icy," they recall. "Nicholas
kept falling down and the rules are that if you do not get back
up within two minutes, you're disqualified. But he kept getting
back up. I'm not exaggerating, he must have fallen forty times---it
took him more than ten minutes to make those hundred meters, but
he never gave up. He just kept going until he crossed the finish
line. We could not have been more proud---and then he went on
to win the gold the next day. That's what Special Olympics is
whose logo reads "Inspire Greatness," has done just that. They
represent some of the world's greatest athletes. Perhaps they
have also provided an answer to our original question and unearthed
the enigma to a great athlete---a triumphant and gargantuan spirit.
For more information about SOAAC visit the website at www.soaamd.org
or call 410-923-0383.