In a society that often places too much significance on status, appearance and self gratification, Special Olympics provides some perspective on what's really important in life.
Local athlete David Frohme exemplified that unique attitude when he spoke the Special Olympian oath: "Let me win. But if cannot win, Let me be brave in the attempt."
That valiant attitude, the perseverance of the Special Olympians, reminded me a recent story.
The runners were at the starting line, anticipation etched on their faces. Bravely, eagerly, they took their mark. The gun sounded, and the runners started down the course. Before making it halfway down the track, one of the athletes fell. Devastated, the runner did not return to his feet, but sat and sobbed.
Down the track, one by one, the other runners turned and noticed the absence of the fallen athlete. One by one, they each turned and walked back to help the runner.
The entire group momentarily forgot the race, preoccupied with helping their friend to his feet so they could all cross the finish line together.
When I read the story, I thought about how most of us in today's society would have reacted without a doubt, the outcome would have been much different.
It was with these thoughts in mind, I went to the Days Inn motel to do a story on the Payson Special Olympics swim team.
To understand more about the organization's focus, one should first look at the vision statement of Special Olympics. "To help bring all persons with developmental disabilities into the larger society under conditions whereby they are accepted, respected and given the chance to become useful and productive citizens."
The Payson branch of Special Olympics offers local participants events ranging from equestrian and track events to bowling and swimming.
They are currently working twice weekly for various swimming competitions, two of which were this month in Phoenix and Flagstaff. The winners' list would be the envy of any swim coach, with Payson athletes bringing home first-, second- and third-place honors.
Their next splash meet will be the state competitions at the Chaparral pool in Scottsdale, Oct. 13 to 15. Payson has 12 swimmers currently training for the competition.
In this day and age of cutthroat competition, these Special Olympians focus instead on each other.
When asked what he likes best about being involved in competition, swimmer Gary Bonn said, "I really like to be happy for my friends and coaches."
Tomacina McCoy said, "I like to be around my friends and coaches it makes me feel happy." Erik Ryan echoed the sentiments of the entire swim team when he said, "It really doesn't matter what you bring home (awards/medals), it just makes you feel good to try to do your best."
Their coach and coach for many other Special Olympic events Becky Derwort is quick to point to the number of locals who support her competitors.
"Safeway employs a number of our athletes," she said. And while many residents may have known about that, they may not know the Town of Payson also shows great support by providing pool facilities and lifeguards for the swimmers all summer. With the pool closed for the season, the management of Days Inn graciously provided use of their heated pool for the twice weekly practices.
"We just couldn't do it without these people," Derwort said.
There seems to be just one area where Special Olympics could still use a little help. Derwort relies heavily on volunteer support, and desperately needs people who can donate their time to these special athletes. Experience is not necessary, she said, and there are a host of helper positions available for a variety of sports.
Currently they are working on swimming and starting bowling competitions but have many other opportunities throughout the year.
To find out more about Special Olympics, what they have to offer athletes and how you can help, contact Derwort at 474-9142.