Area 10 Special Olympics yields numerous rewards
It may have come a downpour but that did not deter hundreds of athletes, coaches, volunteers and spectators from showing up to support the Area 10 Special Olympic Day held at the Bryant High School football stadium April 20.
According to Ann Hudson, Area 10 director, this isn't the first time it has rained, but they are accustomed to being flexible.
"It likes to rain on our parade, but we are holding out. The athletes have stepped it up," Hudson said.
The annual track and field day of events is an opportunity for the athletes to be in the spotlight, and students and adults from Saline, Garland, Hot Spring, Clark, Pike and Montgomery counties participated.
"It is not about the place they come in; it is just about them finishing. It is the thrill of participating," Hudson said.
Bearing the traditional pageantry of the Olympics, this year's event marked the 40th anniversary of Special Olympics.
The mission of the Special Olympics is "to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community."
The Area 10 Olympics was also during National Volunteer Week. According to Hudson, Special Olympics is the largest volunteer organization throughout the world.
"Our student volunteers from Bryant are amazing. They take this experience with them, and while they are not in the classroom learning, they are learning much more — tolerance, giving, pure love," Hudson added.
The volunteers assisted in a variety of ways — timing races, escorting athletes, presenting awards, helping set-up and serving lunch, to name a few.
Nancy Lafferty, teacher and Student Senate sponsor, said her classes help every year.
"I brought two of my leadership classes. It is a wonderful opportunity for our kids to be able to help and see another way of life. It makes them appreciate it," Lafferty said.
Dena Furton, English teacher and Teachers of Tomorrow (TOT) sponsor, shared the same sentiment.
"We have helped every year. My kids love it; it's so inspiring," Furton said.
Volunteering at the games was a first for Scott Mead, Student Senate representative.
"It really gave me a wake-up call. I saw a boy in a wheelchair, and he was so happy. When I feel down about something, I will remember him. It really puts things into perspective," Mead said.
Another first-time Special Olympics volunteer, Lance Smith — a member of the Bryant track team — assisted in the 100, 50 and 40 meter dash, but his role had nothing to do with running.
"I'm a hugger," he beamed.
Track teammate Tyler Purtle said, "It was awesome - watching them come in, working their hearts out."
Daytime events were for student athletes, and the adult champions took the field in the evening. Due to inclement weather, the adult games — consisting of 75 athletes and 50 volunteers — were held on the indoor field.
"This is the second time I remember it raining in 20 years, " Paula Calhoun, South Central field representative for Special Olympics Arkansas, said. "Now that we have this nice, indoor facility, we are better able to modify. It is still the same experience; they can compete and earn medals."
The games kicked-off with the traditional athlete parade, Pledge of Allegiance and torch run, where a member of law enforcement runs the first lap, then hands off the torch to the first of four athletes who run a relay.
The games then begin; however, the day is not solely about sports.
It is a different experience for all who are involved, depending on each person's role.
For the athletes, it is a moment for them to showcase the skills they have trained for and share in the camaraderie of fellow participants.
"I love to see them react when they see friends they do not get to see except at Special Olympic events. They cheer each other on and encourage each other. We could all learn from these athletes," Training Coordinator Rene Prewett said.
For coaches, it is an opportunity to marvel at their athletes' growth.
"To watch athletes that have physical and mental limitations give everything they have to cross the finish line or throw a softball, is still the most incredible thing to watch," Prewett said.
It is the volunteers, perhaps, who learn the most.
"The first thing I noticed was how upbeat these athletes are," said student volunteer Austin Nickols. "They face challenges we cannot even comprehend. It cause me to step back and re-evaluate."
"Come out and volunteer once; you'll be hooked," Hudson said. For more information, or to volunteer, contact Ann Hudson at 993-7610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. or Rene Prewett at email@example.com.