This summer when I was asked to teach Special Olympics athletes Qigong (see the video below), a series of gentle poses that align body, breath and mind, I was thrilled and honored. Absolutely everyone can do Qigong, including people with mental or physical limitations, so I was confident athletes and their families would benefit from the 20-minute demonstration.
What I didn’t expect was how much I’d learn from the athletes themselves. Although the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games happened over a month ago, I am still uncovering how much my life has changed and been transformed by these inspiring athletes.
Below are three powerful lessons taught to me by some very special people – more than 19,625 boys, girls, men, women – who show us what it means to love, learn and lead.
Lesson #1: Be eager to learn. No matter their physical or intellectual challenges, every athlete shared their enthusiasm and openness when learning something new. People didn’t shy away or close down when they were challenged or outside their comfort zone. The majority of the workshop participants didn’t know about Qigong, but as they moved and mimicked what I was doing, their smiles grew bigger as they grew more confident and calm. When you’re eager to learn, you’re fearless.
Lesson #2: Practice gratitude: As I looked around at the thousands and thousands of people sitting in the stands, competing on the field and waving from the sidelines, joy was everywhere. Have you noticed that all happy people love sharing stories? Athletes and families swapped stories about winning, losing and lessons learned. All of us are grateful when we’re surrounded by like-minded people who offer encouragement and belonging irrespective of who’s wearing gold, silver or bronze.
Lesson #3: Accept, celebrate and include others. The long-time motto of the Special Olympics is “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Each of us is blessed with special gifts and special limitations. How we celebrate those differences shape who we are as individuals and who we are as a community. All of us win when we accept, celebrate and include people different from us; our world and our heart grow larger. You know why? You’re perfect just the way you are. We’re all on the same team, playing the same special game.