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Reading and Writing

Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Pass the Word
Writing and Empathy: Reflections on the Special Olympics  -  Special Olympics, Posing for Pictures
By Marissa Moon, Chugiak High, 11th grade « Prev   Page 6 of 9   Next »

A welcome gust of warm air hit our faces as we threw open the tall wood-framed glass doors of the new ski chalet and scampered inside. The room was crowded with athletes, volunteers, and spectators in a variety of bright patriotic colors and speaking many different languages. Guards with straight faces stood every few yards, keeping an eye on everyone. Gingerly, we made our way around the room curiously watching the people around us. Not having any actual destination, we were content just to watch the athletes and volunteers keeping busy around us.

'Winter Games' by Hanna Johnson, 6th grade

Suddenly I felt someone tugging at my arm, and I was startled when I turned to see a small-built young African man pulling me to the side of the room. Seeing at once by his brightly colored jacket and identification cards hanging at his chest that he was a participating athlete, I assumed he had a safe and reasonable purpose, so I did not resist. I allowed him to lead me over to a table where a teammate of his, a young woman, sat smiling brightly at us. For a moment, the two of them just giggled and stared at me. My friend Stephany and I were completely confused as to what they might want. Then the man started motioning to me with his hands.

Recognizing the resemblance of a few words of sign language, which I now assume were really accidental, I signed back. "Do you know me?"

The two seemed to understand what I said because they both smiled, giggled, and nodded vigorously. So I signed a few sentences more, and at receiving the exact same response, I realized that neither had any idea of what I was saying. So I stopped signing.

They both continued making gestures, and finally Stephany figured out that they young man wanted a picture with me. With exaggerated nods, smiles, and "yeses" we communicated my consent. They both practically knocked me down making absolutely sure that I would stay there and not go away while one went to get his camera.

'Downhill Skier' by Lang Van Dommelen, 6th grade

Still a bit dazed from such unusual and frantic hassling, Stephany and I glanced at each other with relieved smiles. It was nice finally to have an idea of what was going on, though we inwardly thought it unusual and amusing that this man would want a picture with a complete stranger.

While waiting for the young man to return with his camera, his friend shed some light on our still slightly confused situation. Her repeated question "American?" while pointing eagerly at us, took a while to figure out because of her extremely strong African accent and our lack of ability to decipher foreign languages. But we knew that they were just excited about taking home memories of being with foreigners. The young woman then shoved her identification cards in our faces to show us she was from Africa and that she was a snowshoer. With her fingers, she showed us that she had taken second place. Again we were slow to understand, but I was truly impressed and humbled by her gentle patience. She just continued to smile while we guessed, and then once we guessed right, she applauded us as if we had just won a race ourselves. We congratulated her profusely at her accomplishments, and she beamed in satisfaction.

The young man returned with a camera and a volunteer photographer after several minutes, but then suddenly acted shy and embarrassed when it was time to pose with me for the picture. Understanding his discomfort, I casually put my arm around his shoulders and smiled. He let out a huge sigh of relief at this and smiled at the camera too. The camera clicked and flashed, and we dropped our arms and stepped back, still smiling. He thanked me in English, shaking my hand vigorously. We congratulated them on their races, then finally said goodbye and slipped out the side door of the chalet.

'Snowshoer' by Sydney Johnson

Reflecting on the unique experience as we walked down the snowy hill, Stephany and I mused at how exciting the picture had been for our new African friends. Whether Special Olympic athletes, or just tourists from another country, I think it would definitely be exciting to be with natives of a foreign land. We must seem so different and strange to them. Just think: from where some of the athletes come, all of the women keep their faces covered all the time. If any of these athletes are used to that practice at home, it must be shocking to see women all over the place with their faces exposed in broad daylight. That type of cultural difference must be very strange, and perhaps exciting for them.

It had not really occurred to me before my experience at Kincaid how very far these athletes had traveled to come here. I was suddenly struck with a great sense of awe not only at the athletes who had come, as the whole rest of the state seemed to be, but also of all the coaches, parents, and volunteers who had worked to help get the athletes here. With fund-raisers, loans, and a ton of extra work, thousands of people around the world had been piecing together the events of this week for literally years. And I was able to see first-hand the effects of these efforts on the lives of the participants. The overwhelming excitement and personal pride displayed by the two African athletes showed me this exactly.

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Next page:   Special Olympics, Floor Hockey Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 

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