By Parijat Jha

Columnist finds new appreciation for dedication, sportsmanship required of Special Olympics athletes

From high school to the pros, motivation is an issue dealt with by all coaches and athletes. I, too, am flawed in this field, because many times while playing football or running track I fail to run my hardest or give it my all. As I walked to the Jones Middle School stadium, I expected a bunch of athletes socializing and having fun. I was stunned when I saw the enthusiasm and excitement coming from these Special Olympians. Instead of whining about having to practice in the scorching heat, like many would have, these athletes showed only signs of joy as they motivated one another to get the practice started. As I watched them warm-up, I realized that the motivation and companionship these athletes shared is rarely seen in any team.

Such an inspiring mentality was exemplified by senior Josh Valentino. I watched as Valentino greeted each player and volunteer with passion, giving each individual a handshake, a hug, and sometimes even a chest bump. Constantly encouraging his teammates, Valentino’s intensity did not falter for a second. This kind of passion is something even I strive for.

As all 31 athletes poured in, head coordinator of the Special Olympics Mike Borders took control and informed the athletes of what each individual would work on. With little resistance, Borders quickly had all the athletes ready after their warm-up laps. He then divided the athletes and volunteers into different activities, including running the 100-meter dash, performing the long jump, tossing a softball, or throwing a bocce ball.

Valentino and his group were first assigned to run the 100-meter sprint. As the group gathered around the starting line they smiled and laughed with each other as if they were casually hanging out. In over 10 years of playing organized sports, I have never been excited to run and I had never imagined any other athlete being motivated to do so, either. I was quickly proven wrong as Valentino and his teammates ran hard through the line. Without having coach Borders yelling and screaming, the athletes were giving it their full effort the entire time.

According to Borders, the athletes never fail to impress him, as they have a natural level of competitiveness that causes them to go hard all the time.

With one sprint down, I expected their effort to ease up, having given all of their energy right off the bat. Once again, I was wrong. Every athlete continued to go his hardest until the end of practice.

They further shocked me by never dwelling on the high temperature or whining about breaks—something I have seen at nearly every practice in which I have taken part. Instead, Valentino and the rest of the athletes seemed to enjoy the running and working out.

“It’s fun out here, including working hard and everything, because I love it,” Valentino said.

Passion like this is a rare commodity. Many times, I’ve seen people lose motivation because of the stress of events in their lives; however I think all of us, including myself, could learn a lesson from athletes such as Valentino.

Valentino begins each day by going to work from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and he still finds himself bringing every ounce of energy he has to each and every practice. Instead of getting lost in the highs and lows—the wins and losses—of everyday life, we need to approach everything in life with all of our effort. Not only will this bring a better outcome to our lives, but it will also bring greater happiness. Maybe with such effort, we can be like Valentino and just “love it.”