For the record, in over 400 posts on this blog, I have never used the word awesome.
This past weekend, I attended a swim meet in Miami. Some very dear friends from out of town were here to watch their daughter swim and try to qualify for the US team. It was just like any of the dozens of swim meets I attended in my youth, with swimmers hanging around on the deck with their friends while they waited for their events, coaches dispensing last-minute advice, and parents in the stands with video cameras and heat sheets close at hand.
Just as I remembered from my swimming days, each athlete had the same look of eager determination as they lined up behind the blocks for their event, and as their names were announced for each event, individual burst of cheers would come from each family contingent. During the race, the parents would yell and watch each split closely, and I’m sure the parents’ highs and lows depending on results were more intense than their child’s.
The only difference between this meet and the ones I knew so well was that this meet was the U.S. Paralympics Spring Swimming Nationals. Every single competitor has a physical disability. Some have less obvious disabilities: you might not know the swimmer in lane 5 is blind until you see a helper tap them on the head with a long pole to signal it’s time to turn. You might not know they have cerebral palsy until you see that they can only drag their legs behind them as their powerful arms slice through the water. Some are more obvious: those born without one or more limbs, or those who gave eyes or limbs in service to their country.
Let others use the word awesome to describe the dessert they ate last night. I prefer to ration that word only to describe–to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald–something commensurate with my capacity for wonder. I prefer to use that word to describe the heart of a thirteen-year-old girl with no legs and only one arm competing in the 100 freestyle. I prefer to use that word to describe the parents of those children, who do everything possible to ensure that their kids lead lives defined by their possibilities, not their limitations.
It was an awesome privilege to be in the company of these great athletes.