I spent both afternoons this weekend (November 19 and 20, 2016) photographing bowling for the Special Olympics of CT at Milford Lanes. Whenever I give them a day of my time, I am amazed at the “heroes” that I meet. I have met volunteers of all ages and backgrounds, coaches, partner athletes in unified sports, and families who give their children with intellectual disabilities opportunities to shine.
This weekend was no different — the heroes were all there, every direction that I looked. But this weekend, four really stood out for me. They came from different walks of life and had their reasons for being there, but they all treated the athletes with genuine care and affection. These four, one teenager and three adults, all had a special skill, they knew how to “read” each athlete. They gave each athlete exactly what that athlete needed at that time and from them. And they were “real”; they didn’t paste on a smile for the athlete and then turn their back as though that had been a play act. Let me introduce them to you:
Sergeant Luke Stark, US Army National Guard, came fully armed with hugs and handshakes. To the athletes, he was larger than life, dressed in his Army BDUs and he maintained that dignity but broke down the barrier. The poor Sargeant had to have returned hundreds of well-intentioned salutes over the weekend, every one of them returned tall, proud, and crisp. I missed the athlete in this photo because of the angle; the story is that she hugged him for a photo-op and reached around and gave him bunny ears. Miss Wolcott, 2017, Alyssa Anderson, another of my heroes of the weekend, jumped in and gave him bunny ears, too. The smile on Sargeant Luke’s face is the same one that he wore all weekend, I swear it got bigger as the weekend progressed.
And that follows logically into Miss Wolcott 2017 and Miss Teen Wolcott, Alyssa Anderson and Victoria Audibert. Miss Wolcott is part of the Miss Connecticut and ultimately the Miss America Scholarship program. These two young women wore their crowns with dignity and grace this weekend. They had fun with the athletes at the athletes’ level — what super people to give up their weekend to hug and support the athletes. Here are a couple of pictures, one of Alyssa with an athlete after an awards ceremony and the other of the two hamming it up to bring some laughs to the athletes.
And finally, one of Milford’s finest. Like Sargeant Stark, this man in his blue uniform stood larger than life to the athletes. Like Sargeant Stark, he treated each one at the level that they needed, understanding when one athlete was looking for a hug and another was uncomfortable having their ribbon put around their neck. At the end of the day, I thanked Officer Joe Dempsey for spending his day with the athletes and he told me that he had never enjoyed a day more. I think the same was true for the athletes who interacted with him throughout the day.
To Sargeant Stark, Officer Joe Dempsey, Allysa and Victoria, thank you for showing me, through simple goodness of spirit and open hearts, that there are heroes that cross our paths every day.