Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Olympians open hearts

Whatever other accolades Sun Valley—and Idaho, for that matter—have accrued over the years, none can really top the magic of hosting the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

It's not so much that providing venues for the games has expanded the international flavor of Sun Valley and the state. Rather, opening our doors to the hundreds of athletes with intellectual disabilities from throughout the world underscores what valleyites already know—we're a place with a big heart.

Few tangible rewards awaited the army of volunteers that pulled out all stops to make these winter games memorable for the athletes. From volunteer heavy-hitters raising money to underwrite the games to volunteers offering to handle the simplest chores, the can-do spirit and hospitality permeating the fun and competition guaranteed success. Amiable weather conditions also helped.

Unlike other Olympians who are unencumbered by the fate of disabilities associated with birth, Special Olympics athletes don't have futures built on multi-million-dollar product endorsements.

But they do have something more formidable. Special Olympics alumni become symbols of grit, determination and personal pride that inspire others held back by disabilities to achieve and teach society as a whole that they have a meaningful place just as everyone else does.

Only the hard-hearted could avoid choking up watching these athletes push themselves to the limit in their contests.

Their oath says it all.

"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

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