ROCKINGHAM — With the Special Olympics struggling to find volunteer support, first-time coaches felt “blessed” to be with the athletes at the state games in Raleigh over the weekend.
There were 15 athletes from Richmond County competing in the games, along with their seven volunteer coaches — six of whom were first-timers. The athletes brought back a total of 30 medals, including 16 gold medals, two fourth-place ribbons and one fifth place-ribbon, according to Theressa Smith, coordinator for the Richmond County Special Olympics.
Judy Glaze, one of the new coaches, described a “hectic weekend” complete with a dance and near-constant activity. Though it was “exhausting” being a coach, she said it wasn’t much different the previous three years that she helped out while her son, Nicholas, 19, competed in the games.
Glaze said the games allow the athletes a chance to be a part of athletic events that are a normal part of most people’s childhoods growing up, but which they were often excluded from.
“They get to shine and be their own person without being condemned or made fun of,” Glaze said. “It’s a place where they can go and show what they’ve got regardless of how good they are.”
She said that coaching was a natural fit thanks to her previous involvement with the Richmond County games, and got certified when she heard they’d gotten to a point where they would need more coaches or they wouldn’t be able to participate in the state games.
Nicholas won three medals over the weekend: a gold in softball, a silver in the long jump, and a bronze in the 50 meter dash.
Barbara Heaton, also a first-time coach, doesn’t have any personal connection to the games that drew her to getting her coaching certification, but said, “God touched my heart.”
“I considered it a blessing to be able to (coach),” said Heaton, a shipping supervisor with von Drehl, which supports the games. “(The athletes) were just a pleasure to be around. They don’t complain, they just go out there and do their level best.”
Heaton said she decided to be a coach after helping with the bocce ball tournament in the fall, and applied her bowling experience to prepare the athletes to do their best. Her son’s step-daughter has special needs, and Heaton said she’s encouraged her to compete in the games in the future.
“(People with special needs) enjoy doing stuff like this just like anyone else and this is a way for them to be able to do it,” Heaton said. “It’s something for them to look forward to. You can see it in their faces and I think everybody should have an opportunity to do what they enjoy.”
Heaton added that she wishes more people would get involved as coaches, and called working one-on-one with the athletes a “blessing.”
“I think if more people got involved it would bless their hearts too,” she said.
It took her six months to complete her certification because of a bad internet connection but Heaton said it was “well worth it.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]