Author: Brooks Craig | Published: 3-30-2009
Being the child of a sports minded father, I have been exposed to many types of races in my life. I have seen car races, horse races, dog races and many track and field events, but none of these races have meant much to me. It wasn’t until I saw defeat on the face of a little girl, was I moved by a race.
By the time Jenny was eight, she had already been confined to a wheelchair for three years. Up until she was five years old she was able to get around with a walker or forearm crutches, of which she taught herself to use. Realizing that, I knew she had the determination in her to allow herself to succeed in life. That attitude would show up again, just when I thought it would be too late to make a difference, in what I thought was just another race. She like myself had a father who was very sports oriented, so when she wanted to compete in the Special Olympics it came as no surprise to anyone.
Her first race was against two other wheelchair athletes, which happen to be boys. The race started the way it would end, one little boy got a quick lead and would not let it go until he won. The following year, I stood at the finish line to watch the race and cheer on the athletes. This time around there was only two competitors, Jenny and Curtis (who had won the previous year). The race started the same way as last year’s race, with Curtis taking a quick lead. As his race continued the race was getting close until I saw on Jenny’s face the look I thought I would never see. The race finished the same as the year before, with Curtis getting another blue ribbon.
I went to Jenny and I told her that I knew why she had lost. She looked at me as if I wasn’t saying a word to her. Then she replied, “Why, was it my chair?” It broke my heart to tell her, “No, baby girl, you quit. I saw the look on your face. You saw that you were not going to catch Curtis, so you just slowed down." The conversation after that shifted to everything except the race.
Almost an entire year past without any mention of the race. About one month before the next Special Olympic, Jenny came to me and asked if there was a way that I could help her train for the next race. So for the next few weeks we practiced as much as we could on her speed, up until race day.
This race felt different from the beginning, she asked me “What can I do to make myself faster?” I made some suggestion about her chair, but mostly I told her to not stop until you know the race is over, and if you’re not sure I will tell you. The race started the same way as the previous two, but as Curtis jumped out to an early lead he veered into Jenny’s lane and cut her off. She got a look on her face again but this was not the same one as the last race. She had a look as if you just took the last chicken nugget from her happy meal. She then swerved into Curtis’ lane and just pumped her little arms as hard as she could and she did not stop until I grabbed the back of her chair. Of course I had to run to catch up to her she had already gone about 20 meters past the finish line just as the track began to turn, when I finally got her to stop. I look at her as she gave me an inquisitive look hoping that I would tell her that she had finally beat Curtis, but I didn’t want to be the one to give her the news. I just told her that we needed to go and get her ribbon. As she wheeled up to the ribbon table I could barely see her through the tears as she was handed her first place blue ribbon. After she realize that she had done it, and the scowl on her little face transformed into the biggest smile I have ever seen.
The next race was won by at least 15 feet, to even the rivalry at two wins each. Then the fifth time they raced, Jenny kept her streak alive, she beat Curtis for the third strait time. After the race, I went over to Curtis, I leaned over and put my arm around him and talked to him. After I was done talking to him I walked over to Jenny and she asked me what I said to him. I replied to her, “I told him how to beat you the next time you race.” She put her hands on her hips as she loudly exclaimed, “DAD, why did you do that?!” I looked back at her with half a grin and said, “Sweetheart, he had the same look on his face that you had on yours the last time he beat you.” She just looked at me and said, “He better be ready.
His body was small, and was labeled as disabled even handicapped. All along we thought we were helping him through life. But only in his parting have we realized that he was helping us. Teaching us with his smile, laughter and joy for life. Looking into his eyes you only saw how life should be lived, not the pain we all feel our life is full of. Thank you for the lessons Curtis you will always be missed and loved.