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We Can All Learn from Special Olympics Athletes & their Families

By Isabel Kallman

I’ve just returned from the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens (as a guest of longtime sponsor P&G) and as expected it was a learning experience.

Over the past couple of months I have been getting to know Special Olympics athlete Christopher McMullen’s mom Carol.  And through her, getting to know Christopher’s personal story, that of a young boy who lost his speech at age three to autism and has since become an accomplished competitive swimmer, multi-sport athlete and marching band member.  Tuesday, I was able to finally meet Christopher and watch him swim.

Special Olympics Athens Christopher McMullen

I watched as Christopher swam in the preliminaries of the 4x100M Freestyle Relay.  He and his team placed first in that race.

And then something curious and embarrassing for me happened.

I was so excited that Christopher and his team had come in first place that I high-fived his mom Carol who seemed a bit reluctant when I reached over.  And then I looked around.  The moms of the winning team were certainly happy for their sons but they were more reserved than I.  They were still cheering for the other swimmers in the pool, including another team from the US.  I felt my face turning hot and red.

I should have known better.  I had already been a spectator at other Special Olympics meets over the past couple of days to know that the last athlete to finish always gets more applause and cheer than the athlete that places first.

That is why these moms are rockstars.  All Special Olympics athletes of the world are their sons and daughters.

The other day Kerry Hincka– mom to Special Olympics athlete and runner Molly– told me how at a medal ceremony earlier she started to whoop it up when she noticed that an athlete from another country was missing her cheering section.  Tina Goss, mom of an SO athlete, told me that she and other parents of Team USA swimmers were spending their days cheering at the pool and medal podium rather than sightseeing in Athens even though their own sons and daughters weren’t competing that day.  These parents have worked tirelessly to break down barriers.  The last thing they’re going to do is start putting them back up along nationality lines.

I’ll leave you with Special Olympics Chairman and CEO, Tim Shriver’s words to the Special Olympics athletes during the opening ceremony of the World Summer Games in Athens:

“Now someone asked me what was the secret of Special Olympics. And I think it’s this… I think the secret is that you athletes never compete with anyone but yourselves.  You only aim to do one thing and that is to beat your best.  I think you have taught us that the impossible is nothing but a state of mind.  But if the impossible is a state of mind than so too is possible.  And when we embrace our own power, we aim to beat our own best and when we aim to achieve to our greatest ability then the impossible fades away and everything becomes possible.  The secret of Special Olympics athletes is just improve a little bit every day… if you do that everyday, what happens? Records break. And the impossible becomes possible.  It’s all about the striving.  Striving is what lifts the human spirit.  And risking yourself with no fear.  That is what lies at the heart of the Olympic movement.  Playing with openness and joy, that’s the soul of the Special Olympics athlete.”

This post has been sponsored by Procter & Gamble as part of their Thank You, Mom program. My trip to Athens and accommodations there were provided for by P&G. My opinions are my own and I think P&G deserves many medals for sponsoring Special Olympics.


Isabel Kallman
About the Author

Isabel Kallman

Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.


Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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Kimberly/Foodie City Mom

That is both inspiring and challenging. Thanks for sharing!