Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Whistle for James: James Long Was One of the Orange Grove Athletes That Was Given a Chance to Speak. When He Approached the Microphone, the Room Went Silent. James Is a 54-Year-Old, Highly-Competitive Guy Who Has Been a Special Olympics Athlete for 40 Years

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

A Whistle for James: James Long Was One of the Orange Grove Athletes That Was Given a Chance to Speak. When He Approached the Microphone, the Room Went Silent. James Is a 54-Year-Old, Highly-Competitive Guy Who Has Been a Special Olympics Athlete for 40 Years

Article excerpt

Lou and James took their turns saying good-bye. Their good-byes were 79 years apart.

Both Lou and James were athletes and were devastated with the realization that they were no longer able or capable to continue to play the game they loved. Both of them brought tears to those who listened to them say, "Good-bye."

While one of them had to retire because of a life-threatening illness and the other one had to retire because of injuries and an aging body, it's fair to say their "farewells" were equally from the heart. Both farewells were stirring, impactful and unforgettable.

Lou Gehrig, known as "the Iron Horse" was the New York Yankees' first baseman from 1923 to 1939, playing in 2,130 consecutive games, a record back then. His farewell speech given on July 4, 1939 at Yankee Stadium (now known as Lou Gehrig Day) is considered the most famous speech in baseball (if not all sports) history. Gehrig was diagnosed with a progressive, fatal, neurodegenerative disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, now known as Lou Gehrig's disease) which killed him less than two years after giving his speech. The most famous part of his speech was when he said, "Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." He expressed his appreciation for his years as a member of the Yankees and for the opportunity to play the game he loved.

It is doubtful that there will ever be a "farewell" speech from an athlete that will be remembered eighty years after its delivery. For one thing, most athletes don't retire because of a fatal disease, and most retirement speeches are now handled by public relations firms, managers and "handlers." Gehrig's speech was from the heart and it left the 62,000 fans in the ballpark and thousands more listening to the radio devastated and crushed. He was a legend.

There have been other noteworthy farewell speeches. Brett Favre, one of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks said, "It's over. As hard as it is for me to say, it's over."

Sachin Tendulkar was known as the god of Indian cricket and had fans all over the world. When he retired he made reference to all the friends he had made, playing cricket--and how happy he was to be able to add them to all the friends he had from his childhood. His speech left millions of fans in tears. He called attention to the fact that for the rest of his life he will always hear the crowds cheering "Sachin, Sachin," and the sounds would reverberate in his ears until the day he would stop breathing.

When Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the greatest professional ice hockey player, hung up his skates, he said, "We're human, we bring it home, and we're highly emotional athletes. We're all lucky we have good people behind us and I know I have a great wife. She's there through thick and thin. I think we're both at peace of mind today. Today, I want to enjoy this and want to celebrate this. I just want to thank everyone who I ever played with and who was ever in an organization that I was part of, whether it is Team Canada Junior, or Team Canada, or the Olympic team, I loved it. Thank you."

In April, the Orange Grove Center in Chattanooga held a tribute sports luncheon for their Special Olympic athletes at the conclusion of spring games. The luncheon was hosted by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Department of Health Promotion and Human Performance and held on campus at their sports center. Athletes from the various teams (basketball, bocce, bowling, volleyball) had the opportunity to tell the audience (athletes, coaches, volunteers, fans, partners and supporters) what it meant to be a Special Olympic athlete. The support for each other was palpable and you could not count the high fives, back slaps, hugs, handshakes and fist bumps. While they each cherished the awards (and the pizza) it was "being there" that mattered most. …

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