An athlete with heart and spirit

This has been a very special week for my stepson, Jonathan – or Jon as he likes to be called. Jon and his team traveled from Cedar Rapids to New Jersey to take part in the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games.

Jon plays softball. Well, to be more accurate, he’s more of an all-around athlete. He plays basketball, track and field, bowls and plays soccer.

Jon not only loves to take part in various sports, he also loves to watch games and matches on television. He devours statistics and records and can quote these figures with ease. He’s told me more than once that his dream job would be a sports announcer.

He’s been keeping us updated on Facebook about his progress in New Jersey. His team won some and lost some, but he’s thrilled to be heading home with a bronze medal for their efforts. I wish we could have been there to watch the games and to experience the excitement of this week.

Jon, who is autistic, is the perfect example of what a determined young man can accomplish. He graduated from high school a couple years ago and then completed a transitional school that helped prepare him for independent living. He found a little apartment and he’s living on his own. He’s got a job at a pizza joint and he goes to practice for several different athletic programs every week.

“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

That’s the motto for Special Olympics. It’s a good philosophy for the athletes. Jon’s talked about it before. He said it’s all about trying your very hardest but also remembering that these events are supposed to fun, filled with good sportsmanship and camaraderie. The games are not cut-throat nor is there bashing of athletes on the other team. People clap and cheer athletes on both teams.

Here in Webster City, I look forward to the Special Olympics torch run held in May every year. It never fails to bring a lump to my throat as I watch the athletes parade through downtown. They wave to those watching along the route and the smiles on their faces could melt any heart.

Jon’s the same way – his face just lights up when he talks about sports and competing. He has a whole drawerful of medals and ribbons from his participation in various events. But he’s also very humble and quick to point out that in most cases, he’s part of a team that works together. That’s why I admire him so much. He’s got heart, spirit and a great attitude.

I can’t wait to visit with Jon when he gets back to Iowa. I know he’ll have a medal to show and lots of stories to share.