Posted by: sonewjersey | April 29, 2011

Brave in the Attempt – Why I Support Special Olympics

Last month Guest Blogger and WCBS 880 traffic reporter Tom Kaminski wrote about the history of the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge and his involvement. What he didn’t include was WHY he became involved with Special Olympics.  It is a topic that he rarely discusses, but wanted to share with the Special Olympics community.

 

Brave in the Attempt

Over the years I’ve been asked why I work year after year with the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge, and why I got involved with Special Olympics NJ in the first place. I’ve never really said, until now. Her name was “Blanchie”.

Blanche Kaminski was my aunt, my father’s older sister. But to me she was just “Blanchie”. One of my earliest memories of her was playing a game of rolling a ball back and forth across the floor of my grandmother’s apartment in Jersey City. She liked the things that I did, she liked to laugh the way I did. I was 6 years old, and it didn’t matter to me that she was over 50.

I did notice she was a bit different than I was. For starters, she wasn’t much taller than I was. And her face, especially her eyes, didn’t quite look like mine. Blanchie had Down Syndrome, but that wasn’t how it was referred to then. It was called ‘Mongolism’. Even in my 6-year-old mind, I remember thinking that was a nasty-sounding word for someone so nice. My parents explained to me that even though she looked a bit different, and couldn’t do or understand some things the way I did, she liked to color in coloring books like did. She liked to eat hamburgers like I did. She liked to be hugged like I did. And laugh, over the silliest things. Just like me.

My grandmother’s health declined while Blanchie’s stayed remarkably strong. I watched my father and uncle struggle to help with Blanche while caring for their own families, as well. When my grandmother died, my dad and uncle were fortunate enough to find a spot for Blanchie in a long-term care facility which specialized in the type of care she would need, as Blanchie began to have her own health challenges.

Blanchie had many health struggles in the ensuing years, but she kept fighting, and always with a smile on her face. She had a wonderful attitude and not a gray hair on her head. My dad, mom, uncle and aunt always visited her. Admittedly, I did not visit as often, especially after I was in high school and college and then on my own. But when the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge started up in 1986, I was eager to help Special Olympics in her honor. My dad was thrilled, especially since he and my mom not only helped care for Blanchie but were supporters of Special Olympics. They had often said they wished the organization had existed years before it had been founded, if only to take away some of the stereotypes of those with mental and physical limitations.

My dad passed away in 1993, and I’ll never forget the first time I went with my mom to visit Blanchie. It was very difficult to be there, and even tougher trying to explain to her why my father wasn’t there.

By this point she still had that wonderful smile but could no longer speak. Blanchie walked over to a dresser, and pulled out an old wallet from which she took a school picture of me she had from when I was in 5th grade. She pointed to me, then to the picture, and smiled. I dropped to my knees and hugged her and vowed to continue doing whatever I could for her and all of the extraordinary people for whom Special Olympics was founded.

Mom and I visited Blanchie regularly, bringing her the coloring books, special candies and crafts that she always liked. She loved to knit, right up until the time her eyes would no longer allow it. Blanchie passed away in 2007, at the remarkable age of 91. When she died she still had much less gray hair on her head than I did.

The lessons she taught me have been the ones I try to pass along to my son: everyone wants to be loved, everyone wants to be accepted, everyone deserves a chance. And all you have to do is say hi, reach out a hand or give a hug and include them. And if it’s difficult at first, just be brave in the attempt.

Tom, thank you for sharing your story!

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Responses

  1. good job


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