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A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience at UCLA

July 19, 1986

I got lucky the other weekend. I spent three days in the privileged company of Olympic athletes. Shades of the summer of '84? Not quite. These athletes were 2,500 of California's finest--retarded and handicapped--bent and beautiful and, most of all, filled with an uplifting spirit to rival the thousands of balloons let loose at the opening ceremonies. This was the Special Olympics.

And this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Their creed, "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," seems like a bold understatement.

I've never been to the Special Olympics before. I've seen it on TV, but this time, I was there at UCLA, with thousands of others--caught in the wonder-of-the-impossible.

Three days of cheering and applauding and hugging and smiling and shaking my head in awe as person after incredibly courageous person threw themselves first into what seemed an impossible task, and then into the outstretched loving arms of dedicated, patient supporters. In awe of these people who sing, "How far is far, how high is high?" My God, my problems pale in their light.

I had thought that only children competed in the Special Olympics. It was astonishing therefore to see so many adults. It seemed to me they well outnumbered the children. Someone said that eight years ago there were many more young ones than now. We talked about why and discovered something in our conversation that seemed, to me, to be a revelation. Is it possible that Special Olympics might be phased out within the next 10 to 15 years? Not because of a lack of funds--but because of a lack of participants? A lack brought about through modern science and current laws.

It seems logical to assume that with the ability to test a fetus for abnormalities, and abortions being legal in many states, fewer women are giving birth to retarded and handicapped babies today. Incredible and unbelievable advancements in medicine can prevent, repair or literally replace so many things. Less and people are given a life--sentence of pain and suffering.

But pain and suffering, however, was not what I saw in those faces. Just passion. And magic. Like the poster I took home--an exquisite burst of balloons with "love" painted on them--and there was magic for me too--the Johnson kind--and this Johnson was Rafer--and I got a souvenir of a lifetime--indelible reminders for me to never give up or give in--and the autograph of the man who lit the Olympic Torch two years ago. It was shades of the summer of '84 after all.

JUDITH ROTHENBERG

Woodland Hills

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