Last year during the Special Olympics invitational in Idaho, Jim Grossman took hundreds of photos. A soft-spoken man with bright clear eyes and an easy smile, Grossman is a real estate developer by trade (he was a founder of the Hidden Springs development), taking photographs as a hobby. He's good at both, but lately, his passion and much of his energy has been directed at the Special Olympics.
Grossman and his wife Pirie were instrumental in getting the World Winter Games to Idaho (see "Special Delivery" Page 11). His respect for the games and the participants is clear in the photos that currently hang on the walls of the Idaho State Historical Museum in an exhibit titled "Be a Fan," after the Special Olympics official logo. The images show Special Olympians in varying settings but with one very clear commonality: not their disabilities but their victories. Captured at finish lines, post-event parties and watching their fellow competitors, all of the athletes pictured are in some state of celebration. It was that spirit, not only of the athletes but of the games as a whole that Grossman wanted to capture. He wanted viewers to feel what it's like to be at the games, something that he first experienced more than 30 years ago, when his sister, Courtney, first competed in the games.
The photos in the exhibit are a combination of indoor shots—mostly of athletes dancing—taken at Boise State and outdoor shots taken in Sun Valley. When he took the photos, Grossman said he had no idea they would be seen by anyone, much less hung in a museum as an exhibit.
"These are images that first and foremost were for myself," he said. "I grew up with Special Olympics so I know how wonderful and life-changing it is. For me, the idea of having the games here came from my own experience and wanting to share with as many others [as possible] that which I've experienced my whole life."
Grossman has a story of nearly every athlete pictured in the exhibit, including Kuwaiti and Chinese delegates, competitors who not so very long ago were not allowed to compete at all. He said the growth of Special Olympics during the last four decades has been incredible, but nowhere more than in China.
"Twenty years ago, [China] did not admit this population even existed. Today, there are almost 1 million athletes just from China in the Special Olympics program," he said. "To have that rapid amount of growth in such a short time far outshines the growth of Special Olympics in the Western world and in [America]. As wonderful as our efforts are here, we won't be able to duplicate that. But what we don't have in manpower and money, we make up for in heart and spirit."
One of the most engaging photos in the exhibit is that of Kuwaiti delegation members. The young man in the foreground is sporting a huge smile. From just that photo, it's easy to believe that toothy grin is a permanent fixture on his face, and it's difficult to suppress a smile while looking at him. It's the sort of photo that engenders a desire for camaraderie as well; he's the kind of guy you'd like to be around. Again, that's something Grossman hoped to encapsulate.
"When you're at the games, it gets to a point where you don't know who are the Olympic athletes and who aren't. You're surrounded by it," he said. "What you end up seeing is a greater bandwidth of humanity, a greater variation. People always think that in volunteering for Special Olympics, they are helping the athletes. [But] the volunteers have the most to gain. I've always said, 'From those who we think have the least to offer, we have the most to gain from.'
"If I've captured the essence of Special Olympics and the compassion these athletes find through competition and if you see that in one of these images, I'll graciously accept the thanks," Grossman said. "If you see it in all the images, you really have to thank the athletes because they're the ones that do that."
"Be A Fan" runs through Feb. 24. Admission is free on First Thursday, and from 5-9 p.m., the museum will host a reception with Grossman. The museum is open Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., adult $4, seniors $2, children 6-12 years and students with ID $1. Idaho State Historical Museum, 610 N. Julia Davis Dr., 208-334-2120.