Ok. After about thirty mails wanting me to post this story again, here it is. It’s on my Livejournal but I guess you guys want it on here for easier access. So, this is for you. I am glad you find my bad luck entertaining. Now that I look back, I do too. Remeber, it’s about karma, not making fun of Special Olympians. Enjoy.
If anyone questions karma I encourage them to read this post. Most of my close friends are familiar with this little story but I feel it is important to share with more so I may somehow save them from themselves. First lesson is try not to use the term “retard.” It should be used in verbage for like, “I will retard my comment for later,” Not, “Nice Air Supply shirt, you look like a retard.” The second lesson is to never do an impression, no matter how great in likeness to someone with a disability. I had a really good one. It was a tasteful blend from the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and There’s Something About Mary. The third is to never laugh at those who live with a mental disorder no matter what they do. I had to learn these lessons the hard way and I am about to tell how, so pay attention. This could happen to you.
I spent six years in the infantry and I will tell you it wasn’t the breeding ground of morality and sensitivity. I felt a sensation of invincibility and truly believed that all the parachuting, bar fights, helicopter jumps and trips to foreign lands would lead to nothing more than another day, another LES.(leave earning statement…pay stub) Even though this sounds like the life of excitement it had times of sheer boredom. One could only find the joy of a cigarette and companions for entertainment during long night watches in the distant forests of Bosnia. I believe that these idle times led to the greatest and deepest conversations and also some of the most humorous impressions. That is probably where my down syndrome impression was forged. It brought such joy to a bunch of war pigs. These were special people because it takes a certain personality to talk so lovingly about one’s family while holding belt-fed weapon. So, it takes a similar sick sense of humor to yield a laugh.
Ah but fate, how you rear your freakish head. After I left the service I was changed by my deployments. I saw the worst of mankind and vowed to live a life of meaning. The feelings I had of invincibility shifted quite hard to the acceptance that this life has an end and what you do now is payed for at some point. My first payment was to a debt I accumulated by my perfect Corky impression. The way I payed it is funny to most but to me it is as if God himself signed the bill.
After I graduated I ran a personal training studio in Alpharetta, GA. It was a real upscale club and life was really going my way. I had great friends, popularity in the community and six figures at 24. You know what happened next? I was so on top of the world I needed share with my fortune with others. So on a Sunday afternoon a middle aged woman walked into the gym with her son. His name was Chris and he stood 5′ 5” and about 210 lbs of just girth. He had down syndrome and his mother was looking for a safe place for his power lifting training. He was a Special Olympian. After an hour of talking they both became members and I became Chris’s trainer and coach. What a treat, money in the gym and reprieve of my soul. Life was good.
The months leading to the Special Olympics with Chris were tumultuous at best. His mother was single and also had a teenage daughter so there were little if any barriers and Chris knew how to get away with anything. I can’t tell you how many times we would finish a dead lift set and I would find myself in a head lock. No matter how you look at it, trying to wrestle your head from a sweaty man child is hard to do and maintain dignity. It probably looked like Chuck Norris sparring with the Kung Fu chimp. In case you were wondering I would be Mr. Norris.
I never looked forward to the day of the Special Olympic competition. I guess it never seemed that it would arrive. Our training wasn’t showing any results and there was no information for the Olympic regulations. The finality of the event did come, though. The day before the competition Chris’s mother came in with a Kroger bag and left it on my desk. She gave me the details on the event with directions and words of encouragement but it was her final statement that shook me to the core.
“Oh yeah, your matching singlet is in the bag. You guys are going to look so cute! Let’s go for GOLD!”
Did she say “singlet?” Fuck yes she did. This is when my good deed rapidly turned to a debt to be paid, and man did I pay. I paid for every limp, every drool, every “Have you stheen my….wiener?” and every exaggerated finger extension. The day to live as a “touched” person has come but before it began my good friend Joe took me out drinking so I would not wallow alone in self loathing. After all, it was just the Special Olympics and I was only a coach. Right?
The next day I woke up with a cranking hangover and thirty minutes late. I skipped the shower and shave, put on the sweats and jumped in the car. On the way to the college (hosted the Olympics) I looked in the rear view and noticed I had mad bed head with blood shot eyes. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day. I soon arrived to find Chris and his mom sitting in the bleachers of the coliseum. There was a stage with two benches, two squat racks and two dead lift racks with a series of colored lights behind a judges booth. The white lights were for a good lift and the red were for a failed attempt. Now that the visual aid is set I will fill in the for my feelings of dread.
“You made it Billy! Are you wearing the uniform? Let’s put it on because your group is up next.”
I went to the bathroom and put on the singlet and wouldn’t you know it? TOO SMALL! It was so tight my junk formed the letter “S” and I dared not even look at my behind. So let me paint this picture as well. I was in a singlet that was too small, I was hungover with bed head, not shaved and red eyes with running shoes. I fit the part.
When I was all suited up I walked back to the coliseum and something else caught my eye. It was a huge slide show with all the competitors bio’s. They gave pictures with where they are from, what they enjoy doing and what they like to eat. I found it mildly entertaining while waiting to coach Chris through his event but then the entertertainment became a clue to the reality I was about to face. One of the slides was my own bio. Now keep in mind I didn’t write this so I can only assume Chris’s mom did. It read something like this:
C Group From Alpharetta, Ga
” He likes to lift weights and listen to music like Pearl Jam. He is cool and has lots of friends who lift weights too. He loves pizza and healthy food. He competes for FX gym, Centennial High School, and his partner is Chris.”
“Partner?” When you first read this it sounds like I would be competing rather than coaching. Well, you know what? No matter how many times you read it, it reads the same. She pulled a 180 on me and I was entered as a competitor/ coach. Apparently you can combine the scores per regulation. I was panic stricken. But it was too late. Before I could raise my concerns I was rushed off behind the stage to a line of about fifty “athletes” all waiting their turn to bench press. I found myself looking for comfort in a familiar face and the only face I found was Chris. In line I found myself assimilated with all sorts of “special” people having all sorts of “special” conversations. I remained silent trying to understand how I went from a coach to this and how can I get out of the situation. But it was too late.
I must admit that I was less enthused to be an actual participant since I wasn’t retarded to begin with but like a good sport I shrugged it off and focused on the job at hand. That job was preparing Chris to lift his registered weight with perfect form. But there was a snag. As my back was turned Chris felt it was necessary to punch the kid in the face that was standing in front us. I will not say that it added to the insanity of my current state but it definitely detracted from my singlet wedgie. All I could do is pull Chris a side to chastise is action and give him positive encouragement with the promise of a coke if he apologized to the poor kid that he socked in the face.
Meanwhile we had moved closer to the starting position of the bench press. Game faces were on and there was medals to be won. Watching the athletes before us I felt we were in a good position to win something. Not to be too competitive but some guys were barley benching what looked to be 30 lbs. Come on. I looked at Chris’s lift cards and we started at 45lbs so right there we were winners. But looking at the card there was no weight filled in for me. I’ll show ’em. I’m going to start out modest and lift 100 lbs and on the third round max it to 200. Oh yeah, that should clinch it.
Now we were third in line to lift and I had to give our card to the judges table but this was a little confusing standing behind the curtain of the stage. I asked one of the passing coaches and she pointed to the table with the Georgia State Triple Delta sorority girls. OH MY GOD…I have to hand my card to a sorority that is doing their community service in a singlet. Did I deserve this too? I actually did this ladies and gentlemen. I walked up to the table and turned my card in under the assumption that I too was “special.” There was none the wiser at the table but when walking away I actually heard a consolidated “awwwww”. I wanted to die.
Zero hour was finally here and Chris was on the bench. All he had to do was lift the assigned weight like we had done hundreds of times before. But the poor guy was too nervous and he started his lift before he judges gave us the sign. Sadly Chris was exempt from this portion of the lift due to lack of timing apparently. Some coach I was. But there was still hope.
While consoling my team mate there were a couple of guys changing out the weights for my lift. I noticed that instead of the moderate blue weights that every other lifter used, these guys were stacking the big bastard orange ones. I thought, “were these Special Olympians too?” There had to be a mistake because this was serious weight. And then it hit me. The Olympics were always in Kilograms not pounds. What I thought was a modest wieght of 100 lbs was now an insaine weight of 220 lbs. Oh shit!
What a conundrum. Making a stupid mistake like this was bad enough but now I can’t tell the sorority judges because I pretended I was retarded. Oh fuck, I’m about to fail at the Special Olympics in the first round. I laid down on the bench and stared at the ceiling waiting for the judges to say “up!” and prayed. In the audience I heard Chris’s mom yell, “GO BILLY!” with what sounded like a consolidated groan from the crowd. With all the adrenaline I could muster I lifted the 220 lbs and completed it. Whew!
I will not lie to you. I had never lifted that much weight before. It felt good that it was over but then came more great news. In order to maintain gold standing I had to increase the following lift by 20%. I didn’t even try it. I lifted the 220 two more times but that was it.
About half way through the competition I needed a break so I headed outside to make a few calls and have a better conversation than the one’s I had in line to lift. One of those conversations was a pretty insightful political opinion about what this one dude would do if he found Saddam Hussein. I think it went like this:
“If I found Saddam I would shoot a grenade at him and a say this one is for you, Saddam! Then I would kill him.”
I had to agree. All I could do was smile and repeat, “sounds good.”
Anyway, I went outside and called my pal Joe but there was no answer. Sitting on the curb in my singlet I reflected on my situation and believe it or not I was smiling. Then I was spotted. Apparently a chaperon saw me as an escaped competitor and came outside to lure me back in. She snuck behind me and began to rub my back and asked in a loving way, “Who are you with sweetheart?” This was enough to send me over the edge. With a disdainful look I stared up at her and said, “I’m not retarded.”
She stumbled back startled. “I am so sorry, why are you…I mean….are you a competitor?” I explained my situation and she couldn’t help but laugh. Her daughter had down syndrome so it was ok for her to see the comedy of my predicament. All she could say was how nice I was but she felt for me. I kind of did too.
The rest of the day went better than how it started but I can be honest with you, I was happy to go home. I have a whole new respect for the committee of the Special Olympics, the parents who raise them and the volunteers who help them. I know that it is not good to have fun at other people’s expense and to thank God that my life can be free of the Special Olympics if I choose.
The following Monday Chris’s mom came into the gym with pictures to share and my medals. I got silver.
I got silver at the Special Olympics. Let’s think about that.
* This isn’t intended to make fun. It’s just what happened to me*