Extra Special Olympian

An amazing thing happened.

leotard_measurementA local Special Olympics gymnastics team that normally has a minimum age requirement of eight decided to change the age to five so that Rhema could participate.

This past Saturday was the first practice.

I was excited about this opportunity for Rhema, and also nervous because of our last experience at a gym. I had no idea how she was going to behave.

I tried to prep her by telling her where we were going, but I don’t think she understood what I said. As we were walking into the building, Rhema smelled a rat. She did The Flop. Also known as the I’m-not-going-to-walk-anymore routine.

So I carried her in, and we passed other parents in the foyer.

We were a minute late, and the rest of the team was already on the floor warming up. As I opened the door to the gym, Rhema let out a blood-curdling scream.

The whole team turned around to see their newest member clutching the sides of the gym doors for dear life.

“Hi!” I said cheerily over the screams while prying my kid’s hands off the door. “We’re just going to sit on the bleachers and… um… take, take everything in.”

We made it to the bleachers, and Rhema wailed into my chest, with her back to the team. If I so much as shifted positions, she would launch a new, higher-pitched cry. I tried to calm her down, talking to her softly.

There we sat. On the bleachers. For 45 minutes Rhema babbled loudly in discontent and repeatedly wiped her snotty nose back and forth across my black shirt. A coach came over to say hi and ask her if she’d like to join them. But Rhema did not seem to understand a word.

With ten minutes left to go, I started having a little chat with God.

God, this is not a big deal, really. I know. I just know she can do this and would enjoy it so much. Can you help me? I just want her to at least go down on the floor.

I managed to disentangle myself from Rhema without too big a scene. I went down on the gym floor and called for her to come to me. (My method was inherently flawed because she does not always respond to her name.)

But I could tell that deep down she really wanted to play. She used to go to an open gym every weekend and LOVED it. Only recently has she developed this aversion to gyms.

After a lot of coaxing, Rhema finally came off the bleachers. She was walking with her feet scrunched, toes curled under. Cautiously, she approached the edge of the mat I was standing on.

“C’mon, babe.”

Dear God. Lord. Just let her take one step.

When Rhema put one foot on the mat, she shrieked and recoiled as if she had stepped in hot lava. She scurried back to the bleachers.

A light bulb went off in my not-so-bright head. Oh. The mats. Something about the mats was bothering her. I’m not sure if it was the chalk on the mat… Or the color of the mat (some are light blue, some are dark blue, some are black). Or the fact that the mat feels cold on her feet. Or the fact that some mats are soft and some are hard.

I don’t know, and Rhema cannot tell me.

Hhhhmmm. For a minute, I toyed with asking the coaches to remove the chalk and remove the mats from the gymnasium. Nah. I don’t think they’d go for it.


O.K. Well, Lord. I asked for one step. But I didn’t mean literally… one step. And I know I’m always saying how small steps are big steps… and one step at a time and Neil Armstrong and “What About Bob” and all that. But really I’m not good at this baby step stuff. I’m impatient and I want more…   (Sigh). But I’m going to be thankful. Because she got off the bench. She took a step.

(Amazing what an attitude change can do. In times past, I would have cried all the way home. Lately, I am grateful for the fact that my children are blessed with life and the ability to walk, run and play).

As if on cue, Rhema came down again and scrunch-walked her way over to a corner of the gym. She managed to get there without stepping on a single mat. For the remaining 5 minutes of practice she climbed up and down a wall ladder with a big smile on her face.

She had fun. Even if only for 5 minutes.

As we were packing up to go, the head coach walked over to us. She handed me a piece of paper to fill out and bring back next week. It was for recording size measurements.

She smiled. “These are for the team leotards.”

Like I said. An amazing thing happened.


21 thoughts on “Extra Special Olympian

  1. Loving the inner dialogue. (Your inner dialogue, that is.) And what an inspiring journey you’re on. You know she’ll have a blogosphere of fans cheering her on…

  2. We started taking our son to a special needs soccer program last summer. He had a rough time with various aspects of it, and it really stirred up a lot of bad feelings for me, but everyone there was so sweet and supportive.

    Now we are going to the winter indoor session and he is loving it and doing wonderfully, both with willingness to participate and with improved performance. It is so nice to be somewhere that you don’t have to explain and excuse things constantly.

    Give an extra hug to your olympian today!

  3. Finding those little corners of the world where Rhema is not just tolerated but accepted and welcomed with open arms — it’s what makes you such an amazing mom. Kisses to you, Rhema, and that wonderful, wonderful coach.

  4. I’m sure she will be adorable in her leotard! How wonderful that you were able to recognize the mat issue – that is a baby step in and of itself. “Press on!”

  5. Your attitude continues to inspire me. I need to learn to enjoy the journey. E melted down at the end of a church activity last Sunday because his team lost a quiz competition. I felt like such a failure but what I failed to realize is that he did make it through the first hour of the even with little trouble. I need to celebrate that instead of focusing on the meltdown!

  6. Look at God – I believe at Christmas time you had noted the desire that Rhema too would have a leotard! YEA GOD!!!! Let me know when she has her events so I can try to get there to witness yet another one of God’s blessings.


  7. fromt he word ‘gymnastics’ i held my breath. leotard, leotard, there HAS to be a leotard!!

    and lo and behold ..

    baby steps -> quantum leaps.


  8. Well, Jeneil, here I am again with tears streaming down my cheeks, cheering for both you and Rhema … and praying that the team leotards are oh so velvety and oh so glittery. 🙂

    PS-Wonderful discernment to realize that the mats were bothering her!

  9. You know, Daniel used to have trouble with the mats. We did those gymboree classes and this was long before he was diagnosed so I had NO IDEA what the heck he was doing. . . But it seemed when they were different colors he couldn’t tell if they were at different levels etc and he would so very carefully step on them. . . If I can give you a piece of advice? For me I always tried to arrive places 5 – 10 min early so he could get used to the place before all the people arrived. It helped him transition. He could first get used to the environment, then deal with the people as they arrive and not all at once. Don’t know if would help, but it might!

    This is a wonderful post. Everytime I come to your blog and I see the picture of the little feet in the sandals my heart melts.

  10. Aw, your velvet leotard! Little by little, your dream is unfolding. I learn so much from the way you approach things. You show such courage in the face of uncertainty, and you keep forging ahead when it would be easier to turn around and leave, or never try in the first place. Way to go, little Rhema! She’s going down that same road too. “Small steps over time yield big results.”

  11. Yay, a leotard! That’s so wonderful! And how brave of Rhema to take a step on the mat. The beginning of the post reminded me so much of when Nigel was younger and how he would scream and couldn’t tell me what bothered him. I finally figured out that it was the echo effect of high-ceilinged, bare-walled places that was agonizing for him. To this day he still has problems being in gyms.

    Can’t wait to hear about further developments with the Special Olympics and their cute new olympian!

  12. jeneil, i’m so glad you posted about this b/c i was wondering how it went. i know it is going to be amazing! what i love about this post is the presence of the Holy Spirit. i am so thankful that you are getting revelation from God — rhema word — spoken word from Him about what is going on inside Rhema’s head. i love also how you are training yourself/being trained to keep perspective. wow. i just love to see it all unfold.

  13. I’m crying over here, happy tears for you and Rhema! How great for both of you :). A leotard!! God indeed answers prayers.

    Oh, and can I just say I’m so glad to hear someone else has experienced the Flop! Aaahhh, Little Bitty does that too (and his big brothers used to do it all. the. time.)

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