I believe in the bravery of the human spirit as expressed through my daughter, Brenna.
Let me first supply some background information. My wife, Pat, and I are the parents of developmentally disabled, 16 year old twin daughters, Brenna and Logan. Although Logan has every bit as much to offer the world, I need to talk here about Brenna.
Brenna and her sister participate in a variety of sports offered through Special Olympics. But Brenna is, first and foremost, a swimmer. And not only a Special Olympics swimmer. Last summer she insisted on joining our local club’s team, even though practices started at 7:00 am every weekday. We never had to roust her out of bed, she never complained, and she always received enthusiastic support from her coaches.
What is extraordinary about Brenna is that when she climbs up onto the starting block she knows she will be finishing in last place, sometimes by two pool lengths or more. What kind of courage does that take? Knowing that even if you put forth your very best effort, you will still finish last. It is this kind of courage that brings tears to my eyes every time I see her stretching into the water.
Now this past summer, Brenna was determined to learn the butterfly, that beautiful double arm stroke with the dolphin kick. She wanted to compete in the individual medley (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) in the next Special Olympics season. SO now besides 90 minutes of daily practice, she was in the pool for an additional 30 minutes for the next 8 weeks. Finally, near the end of the season, she could do it without the danger of disqualification. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the butterfly.
During this last regular meet of the season Brenna pounded out her strokes, again in last place. I was so focused on her it took me awhile to realize that nearly every member of the swim team from 6 year olds to high school seniors was crowded at the edge of the pool yelling her name. Parents, whom I had never met, were urging her forward. Eventually, even swimmers and coaches from opposing teams shouted their encouragement as Brenna struggled through the last agonizing yards. A round of applause greeted Brenna as she ever so haltingly lifted herself from the pool, promptly throwing up. But she was happy and proud.
Fast forward a few months and Brenna was now a member of her high school swim team, a small but dedicated crew. Her persistence in learning the butterfly has led to a curious twist. She was now scoring points fro her team in the individual medley and butterfly. In fact, in a recent dual meet she received one first place in the individual medley as she was the only entrant, and received another first place in the butterfly because the other two swimmers were disqualified for their kick.
The high school season is now over, but we have to go shopping for a jacket. In February Brenna was awarded a letter. And she can’t wait for the Special Olympics swim season to begin.
The Special Olympics oath goes “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Brenna has taught me what it means to be brave. This I believe.
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