Miracle in the Gym By Kimberly Ripley Doesn't it seem a bit cruel to send a child in a wheelchair to physical education class? That's what I used to think until I found myself eavesdropping on a class one day. Steve Schulten has been the physical education teacher at Little Harbour School in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for many years. Popular with the parents as well as the children, Steve is known for his energy, his compassion and his love of teaching. When my youngest child, Jonathan, started kindergarten, he could hardly wait until "gym day," and together we would cross the days off his calendar, one by one. My daughter Elizabeth attends the same school. And she, too, has a fondness for Steve and for the gym class. On our way home from school one day, she mentioned something that struck me as odd. "I got to push Tyler's wheelchair in gym today," she said nonchalantly. "Tyler goes to gym class?" I asked, completely astonished. This boy's senses were severely impaired. Unable to speak, how was he supposed to gain anything from this gym class? I was certain that this constituted some kind of abuse, but trusting Steve and the principal of our school, I kept my big mouth shut. A few days later, I arrived a little early when picking up my kids. Wandering through the foyer, I realized my daughter's class was in the gym. Yes, this was in fact "gym day," and I was in the perfect spot to peek through the door and see what they were doing. What I witnessed was a miracle in the making. As the class participated in their relay race, my daughter approached the boy in the wheelchair. When his turn came, she pushed him with all her might to the other side of the gym. Although the boy never seemed to notice, something even greater than that was happening. Reaching the other side of the gym, my daughter and some of her friends surrounded Tyler's wheelchair immediately. "Way to go, Tyler!" they exclaimed. "Was that fun, Tyler?" another one asked. They hugged him and patted his shoulders in congratulations. I don't know if Tyler felt their touch. I don't know if he enjoyed the wind on his face when his wheelchair was pushed quickly across the gym. And I don't know if he experienced fun or laughter inside his quietude. What I do know is this: The other children in that gym class were making miracles happen. They were showing evidence of complete tolerance in a world of discrimination. They treated this mentally and physically challenged boy the way they would like to have been treated. In return, they were learning compassion. And they were learning a form of communication that is so natural and innocent coming from young children. They were learning to communicate with their love. For although Tyler was unable to speak with words, something about him told these kids that he knew love and could understand its language. Steve watched all of this as though it was an ordinary day. I hid behind the door so no one would see this misty- eyed mother as she eavesdropped on her daughter's gym class. I don't know if he is aware of the lessons he has taught these children. In addition to instructing them in the rules of the games, and in the importance of good health, physical fitness and good sportsmanship, he has allowed an aura of joy to be created inside that gymnasium. He has made sighted and hearing children feel right at home with a child who cannot see and cannot hear. And he has fostered their sense of compassion. In the future, when this man looks to his retirement days, I pray that one child or one parent will laud his accomplishments enthusiastically. For throughout his many years of teaching physical education, he has been responsible for far more than stronger muscles and agility. He has taught his students to maintain healthy hearts, both physically and emotionally. A gym isn't the first place one would imagine for the teaching of compassion. Yet at Little Harbour School, both this teacher and his students get an A-plus.