Who’s Really “Challenged”?

As the gun fired, however, one of the runners slipped and fell to the track. The other runners shot out and quickly left the fallen runner behind. Once again, this is sadly possible and has happened many times even at Olympic and world-class events. Onlookers feel an immediate sympathy for the fallen athlete as a simple slip turns his hard work into lost promises. Usually the focus of the crowd shifts to the remaining runners and their battle to win what the fallen runner has forever lost. This time, however, things were not as usual and simple. This was the Special Olympics, and the crowd soon found out why this event can be so “special.”

As the remaining runners realized that one of their own had fallen, they all seemed to stop in sympathy and consideration. Turning around, they all headed back to the starting area where their fellow runner sat in sadness. As a group, they reached out to this runner and then all held each other in a group embrace. The initial shock of the crowd turned to tears and applause as the athletes walked and then jogged down the track together. This simple yet poignant image of charity and love speaks for itself.

Our society loves to slap labels on people and throw them into respective boxes for filing. These labels are defined by the limits we think they represent; especially is this true of our physically and mentally challenged brothers and sisters. There are a myriad of syndromes and variations of such challenges, but it is often more convenient just to tag these children of God with our own preconceived notions of what they are like, what they can and cannot do, and what value they have. Lost in the process are the traits and characteristics which make each of these people so special and memorable to those whose lives they touch with a smile, a word, or a hug. They are often forgotten or patronized and no attempt is made to learn from them or understand what makes each of them special.

In recent years the term “challenged” has come into use to remind us that these people are not to be viewed as defective, like damaged merchandise on a store shelf, but instead face greater challenges and obstacles than most of us do. As wonderful, unique individuals they deal with and overcome these challenges daily with perseverance that should humble and inspire us.

The actions of those athletes on that track in Seattle show us what simple love, concern, and unselfishness can accomplish. To the extent that we dismiss, or fail to learn from the simple actions of those runners, we may be challenged spiritually. Given our society’s thirst and obsession for being number one and beating others, we may wonder who is really “challenged,” these remarkable people — or ourselves.

People sometimes wonder why God Almighty allows people to become physically or mentally challenged in a world which can be so callous to their situation. The answer to this question may be found in the way these people touch those around them. They remind us of our blessings and what we must be thankful for. They also inspire us to face suffering and serve others instead of turning the other way. Despite what many in our society may think, each of these beautiful people is a gift from God, a touch from Christ in our lives, challenging us to overcome our spiritual challenges and follow their example of simple caring.

© Copyright 2004 Catholic Exchange

Gabriel Garnica is a licensed attorney and educator with over 20 years teaching experience at the college, business school, and middle school levels. He has a BA in Psychology from St. John's University in New York and a J.D. from The New York University School of Law. Mr. Garnica writes extensively on spiritual and educational issues and conducts seminars on time management, leadership, and personal development.

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