ROCKINGHAM — Athletes of all ages made their way to the podium during this year’s Richmond County Special Olympics.
The 2017 spring games began Thursday morning after Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons led the athletes around the Richmond Senior High School track with an Olympic torch in hand.
Special Olympians, all wearing purple T-shirts, just like the volunteers, were seen grinning from ear to ear as they rounded the track and met cheering fans sitting in the bleachers during the opening ceremony’s parade.
The smiles continued throughout the morning as athletes put forth tremendous effort, which earned each participant a spot on the podium and either a gold, silver, or bronze medal.
Athletes representing East Rockingham Elementary, Washington Street Elementary, Cordova School, Rockingham Middle School, 9th Grade Academy, Richmond Senior High School, and the adult community competed in an array of sports. Participants ranging from 8 to 70 years old took part in the day’s 50-meter dash, long jump, and softball throw.
“We can all learn so many lessons from these athletes. We can learn about hard work, perseverance, and finding joy in small victories,” said Cindy Goodman, Richmond County Schools superintendent. “These athletes make the world a little more special just by being in it.”
The Cordova School choir also had its athletes perform two songs for the audience and fellow Olympians, with one lyric saying all they needed was “a little bit more of love.”
“The best part about today is seeing the faces of the athletes when people are cheering them on,” said Theressa Smith, Richmond County Special Olympics coordinator.
This year, the event featured three podiums, opposed to one in years past, which allowed athletes to focus more on the games and not on waiting in line to receive their medals, Smith said.
The two additional podiums were donated by Freedom Baptist Church in Rockingham, and the event also had Buddy Roe’s Bar, Von Drehle Corporation, and Cascades Industries donating volunteers and funds.
“If anyone would like to donate or volunteer in the future, we need and it and would greatly appreciate it,” Smith said.
“The best part about today is getting out of the house and making friends, socializing, and having fun,” said Shawn Richardson, who represented the adult community and has been an athlete at the game for 10 years. “It’s great to have a lot of people come out and support Special Olympics because it is just fun to do and really fun to meet new people.”
Although not everyone won a gold medal, all the athletes went home winners.
“We are just like everyone else, and we want to do things just like everyone else. We probably aren’t going to do able to do it as well or as efficient as everyone else, but we still want to go out have fun and enjoy life,” Richardson said.
Each Olympian was paired up with one of the 150 volunteers, most being student athletes at RSHS and employees at the Department of Social Services, who not only assisted participants, but also handed out medals and encouragement.
Volunteers could be heard far and wide chanting “you can do it,” and congratulating participants not matter the outcome of the event.
Reach Nolan Gilmour at 910-506-3171