I hate skiing. I really do. I don’t like the cold, the snow or the clunky equipment. Still, some eight years ago I brought Sam up to the mountain to attempt skiing with Special Olympics. Truthfully, I was kind of hoping he would hate it. I could then say we tried and move on with my good mother halo intact.
The plan for the first night was to get a feel for the equipment. Sam popped his boots into the skies and intuitively bent his knees and found his center of gravity. I remember saying, hey that’s great, enough for today, we’ll come back another day. But Sam looked up at the big mountain, “Want ski!” That isn’t the kind of statement you can ignore, particularly when it comes from a kid who barely talks. That began eight years of the mad Tuesday night dash to Wachusett Mountain where Sam worked with wonderful volunteer coaches like Melissa, John and Dave and in earlier years, Maureen, Lynn, Kevin and Ken. Each taught Sam something important. With their help Sam quickly progressed to the chair lift.
I remember the first time he fearlessly skied down the mountain sporting a grin bigger than his face all while reciting “Green Eggs and Ham.” Everyone cheered. And so we continued. Saturday we completed our eighth finals at Wachusett with teams from all over the state. The waiting room was noisy, confusing and congested with people: your basic nightmare for a kid with autism and lots of sensory issues. Somehow Sam rose to the occasion, displaying a tolerance he typically can’t master. He patiently waited in the start position at the top of the hill for over 30 without loosing his cool. He cheered through endless awards despite the background din of a few hundred people and the reverberations of a noisy microphone.
I mentioned to one of the other moms at the beginning of the finals that Sam really didn’t care about the metals or winning. We participated for the weekly ski practices. But I watched Sam as the day progressed and I saw something different. I saw tolerance and perseverance. I saw pride. It is true Sam wouldn’t mind if everyone in the room got a medal except him. It wouldn’t even slightly dent his self-esteem. But that isn’t to say he doesn’t like metals. This year he won three. A bronze, silver and finally a gold. Each time he went up to retrieve his medal he stood on an increasingly higher pedestal. Each time he smiled more broadly. By the third trip up he glowed.
To every coach, volunteer, mom and dad who offered kind words or an encouraging smile over the last eight years: You’ve converted me. No, you’ll never see me anywhere except the base of the mountain, it’s true. But you have made every trek to the mountain worthwhile. And I can’t thank you enough.