Get Out to the Races!

By Neil Earle

Neil with Special Olympic athletes in 2015.

I’m a lucky man. I’ve got to see a lot of heroes come to my town and party with them just across the street.

That was back in 2015. My former hometown of Duarte, California, along with neighboring Azusa and Glendora hosted 60 athletes from South Africa as part of the 7000 athletes in the 2015 Special Olympics, an event running every two years since 1968. The real stars, the true heroes and their 3000 coaches created the largest event ever hosted in Los Angeles and the biggest event to be held in North America in 2015, according to the numbers.

“177 countries were involved,” said Wendy Matthes as Director of the Host Town project for the World Games. “This is a bigger event than the LA 1984 Olympics which involved 150 countries.”

Arlington Cross Country team ready for action.

From San Louis Obispo to San Diego, California towns hosted about 100 athletes each and provided accommodation, feeding and transportation. It’s a big deal, these Special Olympics. There were 25 sporting events hosted primarily at USC and UCLA and centers such as Long Beach hosting sailing events and equestrian events around Burbank.

For three days before July 25 those great kids got to experience a taste of Southern California living in scattered towns. Duarte hosted the South Africans on July 23 to tour the City of Hope oncology center as well as a sock hop and typical Socal food to get the feel of our region.

I am no athelete but I love the feeling of doing something through the venue of sports to help bring people togther. I helped with the publicity, interviewing some organizers for a special TV promo video and helping host the South African delegation. What fun! What magic to meet truly appreciative “special needs” young people from far away.

A new race, a new win...plus a plug against cancer.

Sport’s Truest Values

Sports can do that. It can make a mighty difference in young lives. In 2015 Norbert from Belgium told me, “This travelling gives us a more open mind about people and places.” Mamoud Sardu was out to win a medal for Senegal. Eduardo de Souza from Brazil expects to be changed by the experience. Bill Shumard of Special Olympics believes in the “simple power of sports to change lives.” In a sense, Bill says, “this is what sports should be really all about, bringing people together and showing the best they can do.”

I will never forget the wholesome innocent look in those young eyes – open, guileless, expectant – reminding us adults of what true accomplishment and heroism is all about, people pushing themselves to do more than anyone could ever expect, youths pushing themselves to the limit and having fun and fellowship while doing it. These are Christian values. Saint Paul, no stranger to the games, wrote the following: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Neil Earle shows off his prize rock.

There is a lot that is truly admirable about sports used in the right way. This summer of 2019 I got to meet a lot of terrific people in seven 5K runs here in Memphis sponsored by agents as diverse as Chick-Fil-A, Orion Credit Union, and Ronald MacDonald House. It was truly an exhilirating experience. I won medals four out of seven times mainly because I showed up at age 72 along with other brave seniors older than myself.

Youth predominated at the 5K held in my new home-town of Arlington-Bartlett northeast of Memphis, TN. The picture of the Arlington Elementary Cross Country team smiling resplendently in the crisp September air says it all.

Youth need adults to bring out the best them – like arrows in the hands of warriors the Bible says, arrows that need gudance to hit on target. And adults need youth to recapture their sense of life as an adventure about to unfold.

Hey, there are still lots of 5K events scheduled across this vast land. Get out of your rut and join us. Get out of your rut and live! Get off the couch and meet some of the finest people in your community. You’ll always be glad you did.