It's not everyday you get to watch the sun rise slowly over the ivory dome of the nation's Capitol. Why? Because that's way too early to be awake, particularly on a chilly Saturday morning in October.
But that lovely sight was the treat for the hundreds of bikers, walkers, racers and volunteers--including Maria Shriver, Olympian Carl Lewis, and Kool and the Gang, among others (and me...but not my wife still at home, warm and in bed, no doubt)--who ventured out to the National Mall on a crystal clear day to support the DC leg of the Best Buddies Challenge.
Despite my initial trepidation and the chilly bike ride downtown, the immense suffering was so worth it. My job was to meet up with a group of co-workers I'd organized (cajoled? tricked?) into joining me to volunteer at the event, which raises money and hope for kids with intellectual disabilities.
The Best Buddies Challenge, a massive contest happening in various cities around the country, is a legit undertaking, offering participants a 100km and 20-mile bike ride, as well as a 5k run/walk. While none of our folks participated in the race, our Best Buddies staff coordinator bestowed upon us the crown jewel of volunteer gigs--circle the start/finish area, ring customized-cow bells, scream like crazy, and then, one-by-one, place medals around the necks of the exhausted but elated racers as they crossed the finish line.
"Are you kidding?" I asked her, when she told me what we'd be doing. She wasn't. And I'm not kidding when I tell you that I've never seen such joy on the faces of so many people as the hundreds who passed through our ranks that day. For many of the racers, most of whom either have intellectual disabilities themselves or had family/friends who do, this was the culmination of months, if not years, of intense labor, training and effort. And there we were, helping cheer them on as they crossed the finish line, and then were allowed to present them their well-earned Best Buddies Challenge medals for all they did.
The sunrise...OK, that was special. But playing even a small part in the lives of such amazing people--wow! I may get up early again soon...like maybe next year when the Challenge comes through town.
|Volunteer Nick Wiseman checks bags for a race participant. That's Nick, there on the left.|
|Volunteers with Best Buddies founder Anthony Shriver.|
|Sweeping the sidewalks clear of horse-related debris.|
For more info on Best Buddies, check out http://www.bestbuddieschallenge.org/. The organization was founded by Anthony Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Sargent Shriver, and does some amazing stuff for people with intellectual disabilities.