Va. Special Olympics celebrate 30 years
With the help of more than 4,000 volunteers and the support and generosity of local businesses, 1,400 athletes, their coaches and their families were able to travel from 31 different areas all over Virginia to take part in the Special Olympics 2012 Summer Games.
Athletes competed in a number of events, such as power lifting, tennis and various track and field competitions at the games, held June 8-9 at the University of Richmond and other locations.
This year’s Games marked the 30th year that the majority of the event has been held on Richmond’s campus.
“We have seen a lot of things change and grow over the years,” said Holly Claytor, who has been the director of Public Relations for Special Olympics Virginia for the past five years. “They have been such a great partner and we are very appreciative of that.”
Special Olympics Virginia is a sporting organization for people with intellectual disabilities.
“Through sports, we want to build a bigger and better community by bringing people together and opening their minds to the value of people with IDs,” Claytor said. “When people come out and experience the Special Olympics, they learn not only about the program but they also learn more about themselves.”
Through SOV fundraising efforts and various donations, the athletes were able to take part in the two-day event, as well as have meals at the dining hall, a room in which to stay for the night and a dance at the close of the games, at no cost to their families.
“We have wonderful support from donors so the athletes do not have to pay to participate,” Claytor said.
After the initial day of sporting events was complete, the opening ceremony took place in the Robins Center. Before the ceremony began, participants stood outside and applauded as local police officers finished the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run. Each year, more than 2,000 officers in Virginia are involved in the run, which covers almost 2,000 miles, raising awareness and money for the Special Olympics. Since it began 27 years ago, the Torch Run has raised more than $14 million, and this year alone, it raised $924,000.
The lighting of the cauldron with the Flame of Hope brought the official opening of the Special Olympics Summer Games.
Before the lighting of the cauldron, which was built especially for this year’s games and was unveiled to the public for the first time, the crowd heard from several officials, including Richard Jeffrey, president of Special Olympics Virginia; Donnie Knowlson, chairman of Special Olympics Virginia Board of Directors; and Ed Ayers, president of the University of Richmond.
Danny Rocco, the head football coach at Richmond, encouraged athletes to “be your best when it matters the most,” garnering loud cheers from the audience.
Bill Boddie, of Boddie-Noell Enterprises, told participants that he enjoyed being able to watch the program continue to grow and get better each year.
“We believe in your vision, your mission and your cause,” Boddie said. “You truly are an inspiration to all of us.”
Day Two commenced with the power lifting portion, in which participants were grouped by skill level and had to compete in various events, such as squatting, dead lifting and bench pressing. Current members of the football team at Richmond volunteered their time by setting up the weights and helping the athletes, if necessary. Athlete Chris Mayo was the talk of the Robins Center after he squatted more than 400 pounds as fans excitedly cheered him on and
helped him break his own personal record.
While lifting was taking place inside, teammates Jason Smith and Tamal Lee were making an impact on the track. Smith and Lee have been competing in the Special Olympics for the past 22 years, when they first entered track and field events as teenagers. Lee competed in the 100-meter run and won a gold medal in the javelin throw, while Smith took gold in his javelin throw and silver in the 100 meter run.
“I know that I have to work out harder next year so I can win the gold,” Smith said.
Lee said that he always had a lot of fun while at the Special Olympics because he enjoyed staying in the dorms and seeing his friends. The best part of the entire weekend? “There are a bunch of girls here,” he said, with a grin on his face.
With the end of the events on Saturday came the closing ceremony in the Robins Center. The cauldron was extinguished, the lights were turned off, everyone was given glow sticks and the athletes were able to dance with their friends, old and new, to mark the closing of the games.
Among the businesses that contributed to the games were Coca Cola, Sheetz, Comcast, Hardee’s (which handed out free burgers and smoothies), Sweet Frog (whose mascots posed for pictures with the athletes) and Rising Up Sports, which sponsored a live stream of the swimming events so family members who were not able to attend could
still be part of the festivities.
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