The inspiring story of a Special OlympianWritten by Bonnie Shepherd
What's inside this article
A lanky runner carried the opening ceremony torch for the 1998 Special Olympics Winter Games. Cheers mounted as the torch passed by the 42 teams lining the field house basketball court. "Let the games begin!"
The crowd's roar filled the gymnasium, and athletes filed out to the band's recessional. As Adam – our six-foot-five-inch Special Olympian – passed in front of us, my husband, Buster, gave a shrill whistle and yelled, "You can do it, Champ!"
"Do you remember the first day you called him Champ?" I asked Buster once the team had exited.
"Almost 22 years ago, in your hospital room during the 1976 Summer Olympics," he recalled. "I held our newborn and said, ‘One day, son, you'll be an Olympic champion, too.’ " We sat in silence, remembering.
Dealing with doubt
During the weeks following Adam's birth, I observed developmental delays that caused me concern. Then in the spring of 1977, our doctor's diagnosis recast the life we imagined for our seven-month-old son: "Possible cerebral palsy, brain damage, muscular dystrophy and mental retardation."
Why, Lord? I asked. I pored over the Bible, particularly Psalm 139, which told me Adam was fearfully and wonderfully made. Then in John 9:3, I read where Jesus talked to His disciples about the blind man: ". . . this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
For the next three years, Adam endured tests and repeated hospitalizations that brought no definitive answers.
Because of Adam's increasing height, thin frame, vision problems and an enlarged aortic vein, doctors eventually suspected that he had Marfan's syndrome. We had to face the possibility of a short life expectancy. Yet despite all these concerns, "developmental delay" became the only diagnosis.
At three, Adam started getting around. He followed his siblings by scooting on his back across the floor, using his heels to push himself. Then one day, Adam rolled over. His determination had won out over his weak muscles. A few weeks later, he got to his knees. That same year, another daughter graced our home, and one week before she started walking, Adam took his first step with a walker.
I soon began to understand God’s promise to display His work through my son. One young woman who worked with him at a developmental centre gave her life to Christ because of what God taught her through Adam.
By age five, Adam entered the real world. We enrolled him in public school special needs classes. Though he could walk, he could not speak clearly, and kids often made fun of him, calling him "stupid" or "retard."
One Saturday, I took Adam and his younger sister to the school playground. Soon several older boys started calling Adam names. Then they filled the bottom of the slide with rocks for Adam to go through.
I loaded Adam and his sister into the car. As we pulled away from the curb, Adam waved goodbye to the boys and said, "They're my friends, Mom!"
On another occasion, we visited a new church. I took our other three children to their Sunday school classes, but when I found Adam's age group, the teacher told me he could not come in. "All the other children can read," she said. "He won't fit in."
As he got older, Adam found himself excluded from youth group outings involving hikes or camp-outs that the leaders deemed too strenuous for him. These rejections hurt, but we found activities outside the church for Adam, such as a Boy Scout troop that included him in its hiking and camping trips.
Later, with all these experiences in mind, I listened to a panel discussion on church race relations. Four black members talked about feeling left out, misunderstood and unappreciated. I whispered to a friend next to me: "I feel the same way as a parent of a disabled child."
"And I feel the same as a single parent," my friend said.
Suddenly I realized that when you go through a life-changing experience – the birth of a handicapped child, the death of a loved one, a divorce or a sudden trauma – you see life with new eyes. Adam gave me those eyes to see.
Near the end of the third quarter, Adam's Olympic basketball team trailed by two points. Then an opposing player ran into Jenny, Adam's teammate, and she twisted her ankle.
Adam had possession of the ball but gave it to the other team when he saw Jenny fall. As he ran to help her get up, the crowd roared its approval.
Though that decision cost Adam's team the gold, we knew our son was still the champ.
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