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Although my tale is about a basketball player, it is not about a six-foot-eleven athlete whose name is splashed across the sports pages of daily newspapers and whose picture graces the tops of Nike and Adidas boxes. Rather, this is a story of one small seven-year-old whom I named “Running Child,” because when he walked, he ran, and when he sat, which was a rarity, he was perpetual motion personified.
Michael, an autistic seven-year-old, was one of the many physically and mentally challenged children who participated in the Special Needs Basketball Challenge, a very special and important sports event. The Running Child was assigned to my station, and I can recall the hopeful look on his face as he tried to shoot the basketball into a hoop mounted on the wall over his head. One shot – missed. Two, three, four – missed. Six shots total, and none went through the basket. Just as we were about to give up on this kid’s bid to be the next Michael Jordan, I then realized all Michael needed was an extra boost. I lifted him high above my head and instructed him to bend his elbows, aim for the net, and push the ball forward. He followed my directions and we both watched as the ball, as if guided by a spirit, went straight into the hoop, nothing but net. The crowd that had gathered to watch Michael cheered with elation for their new hero, as he shot again and again, each ball landing in the middle of the hoop. All he needed for liberation was an extra ten inches.
Michael was the kind of child who was determined to complete his task no matter how difficult the directions or how long it took. Every six months thereafter, Michael appeared at my station and held his arms up as a signal for me to lift him. Each time I did, he executed the perfect shot, right through the center of the ring. The pride he felt at his accomplishment was written all over his face.
I made many new friends in the three years that I volunteered at the YMCA’s Special Needs Basketball Challenge, and I have met and gotten to know each and every one of the special needs children who participate. Each is wonderful in his or her own way, but it was Michael who caught my attention and changed my outlook on life. His determination set the bar for all the others, and by giving Michael the ten inch boost he needed, I changed both of our lives. Despite his handicap, Michael would always feel like a star – and I will always be proud to have helped Michael achieve that feeling.
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