Sarah Jane Donohue with her therapist Dr. Nia Mensah
By Áine Ní Shionnaigh
iHOPE Special Olympics 2015
“If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” reads the conclusion of the Special Olympics athletes’ oath. Bravery is at the core of the Special Olympics movement. The athlete’s bravery is central. Equally importantly however, is their parent’s bravery. Our world, although it pretends not to, is totally biased towards outward appearance. Perfection is the ultimate goal. Imperfections must be perfected, whatever the cost. To expose children who are ‘imperfect’ in the eyes of the world takes tremendous courage. I was gifted with this courage on Thursday and Friday last when Grace Anne took to the hallways of her school, www.ihopenyc.org, to compete in the Summer Olympics in her gait trainer and on her bike.
Ironically when one is a parent of a child with special needs, special occasions and events usually pose more of a challenge and are sometimes easier avoided. A few months ago when Dr. Nia Mensah, Physical Therapist, came bounding into the office with the idea of an iHOPE Summer Olympics, I expressed excitement outwardly but inwardly a little knot had started to form. As the event drew closer, I found myself getting caught up in the growing excitement and decided to face the challenge head on and am so glad I did.
At the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony at iHOPE on Thursday last, there was a palpable sense of occasion and anticipation, parents, grandparents and iHOPE staff all gathered to celebrate their children. A staff member, Maria Garzon sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ followed by a student parade and the ‘Carrying of the Torch’ by one of our students, Anthony Dixon. The games took place from 1.00pm to 4.00pm both days and included: a vision game of Stack Them Up, Knock Them Down, Scoot the Boot, Sports Fishing, Ladybug Race, Hope Hoops, Volley Ball, Bubble Smash, followed by the more serious Timed Power Wheelchair Obstacle Course, Cycling and a 50 meter dash in gait trainers.
Experiencing Grace Anne participate in the iHOPE Summer Olympics changes the way other people may perceive her in the world. Grace Anne has a great deal to offer the world. Although I have one of the most beautiful, happiest children, I often have to cloak myself against the looks of pity, the endless comments: ‘I could never do that’, ‘what a shame, she could have been…’, ‘you are great, I could never cope with that’, ‘God won’t give you a cross you can’t carry’. Being the parent of a child with a disability extends the parameters beyond the place to which most people can relate so they feel the need to ‘console’ which is not what parents of children with special needs want. They want to celebrate their achievements which is what we did last week at iHOPE.
Grace Anne has taught me the real meaning of unconditional love, happiness, perseverance and determination. She is a cute, clever, red haired, blue eyed, freckle faced little girl who was born with a happy fighting spirit and is tuned into a better quality frequency than the rest of us. Because of her reaction to the iHOPE Summer Olympics, I now feel obliged to share Grace Anne more with the world, she’s too precious to keep to myself. I need to share her happiness, perseverance and determination with the world at large.
I feel when people come in contact with our children here at iHOPE, their perceptions change drastically. The greatest thing I can do is to change the hearts and minds of people without disabilities so that they will realize the great value of these children and not feel pity for them and their parents.
Grace Anne’s amazing school: iHOPE, the International Academy of Hope, www.ihopenyc.org, which has succeeded in giving back hope to Grace Anne and I and countless other children. iHOPE has the chance to change the lives of children that everyone else has given up on. Its purpose is to give hope to special children and their families and that it does. I now believe iHOPE can give back hope to the community outside and give a richer meaning to others lives. To see an atmosphere that takes equality seriously, please schedule a visit to iHOPE here in NYC where you will meet many children that had been given up on previously, come to life, smile, talk, shout, sing, participate, attract attention for the right reasons. Step into iHOPE and root for Hope, Equality and our common humanity. My contact details are with the editor.
There are too many people to thank individually, a heartfelt thanks to everyone in iHOPE for everything that led to two amazing days of Summer Olympics. I have never seen our children so happy. Thank you to our Founder, Patrick Donohue, a proud Irish American whose vision and stamina has led to the founding of the first school in NYC solely for treating children with brain injuries. Groundbreaking in its treatment and approach, iHOPE is becoming a model of excellence for treating children with brain injuries across the US and indeed across the globe. Go raibh maith agat Padraig agus maith thu.
“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. (Victor Frankl, A Man’s Search for Meaning).