What’s So Special About the Special Olympics?


As you are probably aware, the media melt down de jour is Barack Obama’s major gaffe on the Tonight Show.

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Obama cracks Special

Olympics joke on Leno show

BURBANK, Calif. – President Barack Obama might have rolled a gutter ball on NBC’s “The Tonight Show.”

Toward the end of the interview on Thursday, Obama told host Jay Leno he’s been practicing at the White House’s bowling alley but wasn’t happy with his score of 129.

Leno complimented Obama on the score, but the president quipped, “It was like the Special Olympics or something,” which prompted laughter from the audience.

The reaction to this attempt at self depreciating humor?

A tsunami of criticism.

The perfunctory apologies.

The obligatory game of political football.

And the media eventually telling us, “Move along. There’s nothing to see here.”

But before this issue fades from memory,  I would just like to add that the foundational idea behind this joke is fundamentally flawed.

Many people believe that the Special Olympics serves to provide an avenue for less fortunate and less competent  people to be able to compete and feel good about themselves.

We can condescendingly think, “How nice that those who can’t compete with the rest of us have their own little event to participate in.”

But in my experience nothing could be farther from the truth.

I had the opportunity to serve as a track and field official during the Special Olympics a few years ago.

It was there that I saw one of the most outstanding examples of poise and sheer athletic ability I can ever recall.

The event was the fifty yard dash.

As the gun went off,  one of the competitors slipped on the cinder track and fell face first on the ground.

If I had done the same during my track career I might have just slammed my fist on the ground, rolled over on my back, held a brief pity party, dusted myself off and walked away.

But this young man was cut out of different cloth.

He scrambled to his feet and began to run.

And what a run it was.

With the slip and the fall and the scramble to his feet he still crossed the finish line at 6.1 seconds.

In a word, this Special Olympian could fly.

But what made this demonstration of athletic ability even more special was what motivated him.

You see, at the end of every race there are people waiting to give the competitors a congratulatory hug.

And when I saw the joy and excitement on this young man’s face when he ran into his father’s waiting arms I experienced something profound.

The reason he persevered and performed at such a high level was simple –

He wanted his hug.

I never forgot the object lesson I learned that day.

You see, the Bible tells us that we as Christians are called to live our lives as if we were running a race.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.

And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.

Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (I Corinthians 9: 24-27)

Now we all know people who have started out in this race, only to fall by the wayside.

And sometimes we wonder what is the difference between those who collapse and those who keep on running to the end?

The answer is surprisingly simple.

Like our Special Olympian, the ones

who scramble

and strain

and stumble

but keep on keeping on till the end –

know what’s waiting on the other side of the finish line.

Even better, Who is waiting for us on the other side of the finish line.

We will see the out stretched arms of Jesus.

And fall into His eternal embrace.

So when we get tired and tempted and feel like cashing in our faith and walking away – be like our Special Olympian.

Remember the hug.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:6-8)

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