“Ju-li-a! Ju-li-a! Ju-li-a!” the crowd chanted as the young girl’s walker on skis glided across the finish line.
She beamed from ear to ear as the wind blew her hair from her face on the crisp March day.
She thrust her fist in the air in triumph as the crowd of 200 people cheered. Nothing could bring her down from this high.
Not even the fact that she came in dead last.
That’s simply the spirit of the Special Olympics. Everyone is cheered for. Everyone gets a prize.
If there is one word to describe that March 6 day in Pomfret, Vt., it would be acceptance.
Snowshoe coach Kitty King was very touched by the day. King works for Zack’s Place, a nonprofit organization in Woodstock, Vt. for people with special needs. Zack’s Place was well represented at the event, as were other organizations and high schools from all around Vermont.
“I couldn’t be more proud. I’m busting with pride. This is the best thing I’ve ever done. The courage displayed is amazing. It’s always the highlight of my year,” King said.
No matter the disability, no matter what they had suffered in the past, or what they were going to endure in the future, this was a safe place for everyone to be celebrated.
Each competitor strapped on snowshoes and ran with everything they had for a day of pure joy and full hearts.
My eyes filled with tears many times throughout the day simply seeing the triumphant spirit of all the people who have struggled so much. Every single person radiated delight.
“My favorite part was being with all of my friends,” said Sarah Peters, who won three medals throughout the day.
Each race had two people in it; a participant in the games and a volunteer they had been training with. Katie Miller from Woodstock partnered with my brother, Tanner Dow.
“Stepping in on the first day, meeting Tanner, as well as seeing everyone’s smiles and laughter as I walked in, made up my decision on how amazing these people truly were, every one of them with their own story, inspiring attitudes and big smiles on their faces,” Miller said.
The Dow and Miller duo ended the day with a gold and a bronze medal.
My brother is autistic. The doctors thought he would never speak. He overcame. They didn’t know how much he would develop mentally. He’s the smartest person I know. They thought his disability would prevent him from many things.
He has proven them wrong time and time again.
Every single person there had a different story. The Special Olympics gives them a chance to take every road block they’ve encountered and blast through with a huge smile.
“Nowhere else can you sense the human spirit from Olympians and spectators alike than at the Special Olympics. You’d have to be a cold-hearted person not to feel something from that event,” said John Dow, a proud spectator and father Tanner and I.
Tanner loved winning medals, but what was more important to him was being able to spend time with the people he loves.
“After the event we got to eat pizza and watch Tangled,” Tanner said. “I loved winning the gold and bronze medal too!”
He’s my hero.