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Fifth Place Winner

posted Friday April 26th, 2013

When Sophie was 4, there was some question as to whether she actually qualified as mentally retarded (the official term they used then — and still do, to a large part).

I really liked the idea of having a kid with Down syndrome who wasn’t retarded, even though all the medical literature tells you the two go hand-in-hand, and the only reason the whole thing was in question was because if she did test too well the state would take away her services.

Ray rolled his eyes when I told him.

“You know how I know Sophie’s mentally retarded?” my plain-spoken husband asked. “Because when I play the Memory Game with her, she’s as excited about the last match as she is the first.”

I had to agree. It was true. I figured that would change with time, that as she got older, Sophie would figure out what’s worth getting excited about.

So far, she hasn’t. Or maybe she has — and I’m the one who’s got it wrong.

I thought of the Memory Game this morning as Sophie competed in the 50 meter dash in the Special Olympics state track meet.

“Oh fuck,” I thought as the runners took their marks. As is typically the case with Sophie — both on the track and in life — the other kids towered over her. And they all looked pretty fit. She took off fast, arms pumping, tongue out, hair flying, trying her very best.

It was a close finish, and from my (admittedly inexperienced) perspective, it looked like she placed.

“She came in last,” Ray said matter-of-factly when I found him. (He’d been right at the finish line to get the best video.)

“But did you see her run?” he asked. “Her stride was awesome!”

It was. I was really proud. But still, I pouted a little as we walked around the dusty track to meet up with Sophie at the awards tent, where groups of volunteers in sweater vests and turquoise jewelry played the Olympic theme song again and again (and again and again and again) as they handed out medals and ribbons in heat after heat.

Every athlete takes the stage, everyone gets a medal or a ribbon and the gold medal winner gets flowers. They do it right; it’s designed to make everyone feel good. Even so, some of the athletes looked happier than others. My favorite was an older woman with jet black hair and bright turquoise eye shadow that matched her team tee shirt; she rolled her eyes and smirked when they gave her her ribbon, clearly a little embarrassed to be celebrated for a mediocre effort.

I felt a kinship with that woman. But not with Sophie, who absolutely beamed as she took her spot — Ray was right, fifth out of five — and grinned as Ray and I cheered loudly when her name was called.

Afterward, Sophie called her babysitter. “I got fifth out of five!” she told her, super excited, then told me that I should hang her ribbon up in my office because it’s really special.

So I did.  On my bulletin board, next to the button that reads, “If at first you don’t succeed, you’ll be a loser and a burden on society for the rest of your life.”

Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Or, apparently, 10 years. But I’m getting there.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, Special Olympics by Amysilverman

One Response to “Fifth Place Winner”

  1. Just wanted to share this site: Mom creates dolls for kids with Down syndrome.

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