The 2014 Opening Ceremonies for the Mecklenburg County Special Olympics were this morning. Our efforts to increase attendance worked. Last year, about 15-20 family members attended. This year, over 400 family, friends and community members cheered loudly for each and every athlete who marched into the Coliseum.
There were many special moments while we were there. When Ben walked in (he was in his walker!!!) his personal cheering squads yelled extra loud. I was a few feet away from him, and I struggled with letting him see me or not. Often if he sees his family in a crowd, he wonders why he is not with us. But the decision was made for me, the crowd was so wild and loud, he could not hear me anyway. Just as he walked past me, I noticed him look up at the audience, then give a double take at all the people cheering. My tears came then and even now when I write this.
While we were waiting for the ceremonies to begin, a woman introduced herself to me. She lives in Charlotte, saw the news about this event and came. She wanted to meet me and thank me. Her grandson is autistic and lives in Texas. We hugged. A connection made.
For some, being a part of this event was a life changing experience. We think that as a member of the audience, we are giving our time and efforts to the athletes, but in reality, we, as meager spectators walk away with a lot more. Sometimes too much to comprehend. We have to let it sit until we can process the emotions.
WBTV and WBT radio have already asked to be a part of the efforts next year to increase the audience. If the Special Olympics committee is open to it, I am a willing volunteer. But I have a feeling it will be easy to get people next year to come, once you have experienced the ceremonies, you will tell everyone about it and make it a tradition to attend. It is that good.