“Why Do They Hate Us? I Love Everyone.”

Those are the words of one of the athletes I had a chance to talk with during the Special Olympics Fall Festival held at Villanova this weekend.

I was chatting with one of the guys who was competing in the roller skating competition, and he was telling me of all the places he has been to in the country, from Yellowstone to Redwood to Graceland to Dollywood.

As we were chatting, another athlete joined us and started talking about the places she’d been to. I asked her if she’d ever been to New York, and she said she had, and that she had even gotten a chance to visit the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in the 1980s. She asked me if I had ever been there, and I said I couldn’t remember. But then she caught me by surprise when she asked me why they knocked the Towers down, followed by asking “Why do they hate us? I love everyone I meet.”

I didn’t have a good answer for her, but I’ll always remember her question, and her innocence. And I thought how wonderful the world would be if everyone thought like she did.

And that was just one of the many wonderful experiences I had this weekend as a volunteer at the Special Olympics.

I met an athlete who told me, with a great deal of pride, that he was engaged to one of the other athletes on the team. I then watched the two of them cheer wildly for each other as they competed in the roller skating races.

I met two young men who were competing in the soccer skills event, and did so with a level of excitement and gusto that was contagious. One of them told me that he had fallen the day before during the dribbling event, but that he gotten right back up and finished the event. I then watched him in another event where he just missed one of the targets; he came back to the sideline disappointed, but still smiling and enthused as ever.

I watched part of the weightlifting competition, where the athletes names are announced and they walked to the stage through a gauntlet of Villanova students cheering them on while their favorite song played in the background.

I’m not sure who has more fun or a more meaningful experience during the weekend, the athletes or the volunteers.

But it has certainly turned into one of my favorite weekends of the year.

If you’d like to read more about this amazing event, my post from last year describes what what a moving experience it was for me and provides a few more details about the event itself; it is one of my favorite posts.