The intellectually disabled athletes who compete in the Special Olympics of Maryland have one key characteristic in common with the hyper-driven young people who train for the U.S. Olympic Team: They are serious about sports, training regularly – and aggressively – with an eye toward victory. One pronounced difference: Special Olympians also train themselves not to fixate on outcome, but to live in the rushing moment of the game, to enjoy active play and camaraderie above all else. Such superb sportsmanship seems to come naturally for most of them.
“They approach the sport to be competitive,” says Jason Schriml, VP of communications for Special Olympics of Maryland. “That all ties in with our motto – ‘Let me win, but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt.’ They’re competing against their cohorts. [We emphasize to athletes:] ‘We’re going to train hard, but in the end there’s often only one winner. You still have the dignity and grace, and still enjoyed the process.’”
This weekend’s three-day competition marks the 42nd Special Olympics in Baltimore – the event was founded in Rockville in 1968. Each summer, athletes grouped by age, gender and ability, typically consisting of participants from 10 to their early 70s, compete in track and field, swimming, bocce, softball and cheerleading.