Mark swooped him up in his arms, holding him and smothering him with kisses. Broden realized that it was a special day.
Last Friday was a special day for Broden because when he woke up that morning, his Dad was in uniform looking over him smiling. Unbeknownst to him, Mark wasn’t going to work that morning. We were going to take Broden to an event he had never experienced before. His ABA clinic was going to be on hold for a few hours and his Dad was dedicating the morning to him and only him.
April 8th was the 3rd Annual Fort Benning Field Day, a day for kids of all ages who have special needs. This is the first year that I experienced this event and I’ll have to say, Fort Benning got it right. Bravo. Not only was Fort Benning involved, but the communities outside of Fort Benning as well. School buses from multiple school districts ascended on Fort Benning to take part in this event. There were over 1,200 athletes that took part in field events this year with 1,300 volunteers.
The field day was kicked off with an introduction from COL Andy Hilmes, the Garrison Commander at Fort Benning. Smiling out at the field of athletes, their families and volunteers, he yelled, “Welcome to our 3rd Annual Field Day at Fort Benning! Look how far we’ve come. The first year we only had 12 athletes. This year, we have over 1,200!” Everyone cheered with excitement. I saw soldiers hugging their special needs children a little tighter and I saw special education teachers nodding with approval. Next, BG Eric Wesley, the MCOE commander came up to the podium to speak, “Run a little harder than you have before! Shake hands with a stranger! Leave this event feeling like a winner!” To conclude the formal portion of the ceremony, a child with special needs went up with the senior leaders at Fort Benning. Together, they lit the torch to begin the games.
As we walked on to the field, I could not believe the amount of support. Bridget Siter, who works with Fort Benning MWR said, “This is our favorite event of the year. We have five divisions and 900 team members. Representatives from every division were out there supporting our families. We had volunteers serving hamburgers to taking photos for families.”
The games consisted of basketball, knocking down giant bowling pins, 50 yard dash, throwing tennis balls to hit targets, and indoor games for individuals in wheelchairs. There were bouncy houses for smaller children with volunteers swarming the area, ready to help and cheer the children on the field. I remember looking over at the area where children could make baskets and I saw a soldier who was a volunteer, pulling down the basket so children could make jump shots. I don’t know who was having more the fun, the kids or the soldier. My husband, Mark, came by with Broden on his shoulders. The volunteers gave Broden a ball and encouraged him to make a basket while he was on his Dad’s soldiers. I was proud to say Broden made some nice shots being lifted over six feet in the air.
What I loved about this day was that the children could be themselves. No one was telling them to keep their voices down, stop stimming, or to walk and not run. They were free to be who they were and that was good enough. For this reason, this day was not just special for the kids, but for their families, volunteers and educators.
This day was not about who ran the fastest or who scored the most points. It was a place where being special was celebrated. Bridget Siter shared a story that resonated with me. When she was behind the camera taking pictures, she noticed a boy who found it difficult to wait in line. There were about four children in front of him, but all he wanted to do was high five everyone and help them celebrate. She said, “What I loved was that the teachers did not hold him back. They let him run up to the front and high five every child when they were done.” In his mind, celebrating every child’s accomplishment was more important to him than actually playing the games.
Broden’s last event that day was running the 50-yard dash. I stood on the sidelines and took pictures as his Dad ran alongside him. Broden started out strong and then towards the end started to lose steam, but then looked over at his Dad and heard him cheering him on, “You can do it Broden. I know you can.” His upper lip tightened a little bit and he ran into the finish line with a strong finish. Mark swooped him up, in his arms holding him and smothering him with kisses. Broden realized that it was a special day. It was a day to celebrate being Broden.