Sometimes it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures, until we meet someone who reminds us how important even the smallest moments may be.

This is a lesson we all learn many times, only to forget when schedules get too strict or life gets cluttered. Maybe that’s why God sends us so many reminders — the joyful hearts that touch our souls and leave a little of their warmth lingering.

The only olympic athletes I’ve ever met face-to-face were the perfect examples. They had the purest spirits inside very imperfect bodies, and yet, they found happiness around every bend of a world they never even tried to make sense of.

I met them volunteering for Special Olympics years ago. I was supposed to be at the Princeton Senior High School track to help them, but it was really my dozens of “buddies” who brightened my day.

I fetched the softballs they threw, measured their meter jumps and walked laps with them as they trained for first one race and then another. Technically, they were in the running for medals, but for most of them, their successes could never be measured in metal or ribbon.

Born with brains that worked differently and bodies that never quite cooperated, even setting foot on the field was a victory.

For them, it was a joy, and their winning spirit could not be contained.

Their training wasn’t grueling. It was fun.

Being nice to competitors wasn’t an exception. It was the rule.

And, getting a hug upon arrival and departure was no option. It was a requirement.

Although my heart was often heavy as I watched them work, knowing even before they picked up the ball that their muscles probably wouldn’t cooperate or their balance wouldn’t hold out, their determination to try and ability to get back up and try again always left my spirit lighter.

They didn’t care where the softball landed. They cared that they threw it.

The distance ran didn’t matter nearly as much as the desire to take off, and a medal wasn’t as treasured as the cheering fans and happy faces who called for their favorite athletes.

I haven’t actively volunteered with Special Olympics for years, but during Rotary Pancake Day, I met a group of customers who reminded me of my special buddies from long ago. Their slow speech and deliberate motor skills made me think they likely take the field now.

Fellow Rotarians and I served hundreds of people one Friday morning a few weeks ago, but that particular table enjoyed our meal more than any others I saw.

They thought the pancakes were delicious, the syrup was perfect and the soft drinks were chilled just right. Each one wore a smile as they arrived and a grin when they left.

One of the young ladies struck up a conversation with me. She had just recently acquired a pair of black boots with chunky high heels, and she thought they were the most perfect boots in the world.

She wore them that Friday with a skirt, and the way she carried herself said she believed she was absolutely beautiful.

She was right.

She called my attention to her brand new boots that morning to brag just a bit. As I admired them, she said, “I bet you couldn’t wear boots like these. You’d probably fall.”

Instantly, I agreed.

Though the truth is that most of my shoes in a substantial collection have at least an inch advantage over the height in her heels, she was completely correct that I probably don’t wear them as confidently or with nearly as much thought as she did that day.

She found a simple joy in every step of something I dismiss as commonplace.

As we approach Thanksgiving, all of us count our blessings, but sometimes we only look for the big ones. We miss the thrill of running a race with a friend or the perfect fit of putting on a new pair of shoes, because we’re too busy or too consumed with other things.

But, I think my Special Olympics friends were onto something. They found out the big issues tended to sort themselves out if they enjoyed the smaller pleasures in life.

They allowed their thankful hearts and sweet spirits to absorb blessings of all sizes, without taking even a second for granted.

For them, each breath, each step, each day was a treasure for which to be thankful.

For me, each minute they shared was a blessing.

Tammie Toler is Princeton Times editor and general manager. Contact her at ttoler@ptonline.net.