ELIZABETHTOWN — Some special athletes are set to waft, wheel, and walk their way to victory Thursday when more than 100 Bladen County athletes will participate in the 2017 Special Olympics.
Athletes and volunteers will begin arriving at Elizabethtown Middle School at 8:30 a.m., and the Parade of Athletes is scheduled to begin at 9:45. Each group home, day program, or school group has been working on a banner to represent the athletes, who will take a lap around the track to showcase their work. Banners will be judged later in the day.
The Opening Ceremony will include a torch run by local law enforcement, a lighting of the Special Olympics torch, a presentation of colors, and a singing of the National Anthem. Then the games begin.
Events have been divided into two areas: track events and field events. Track races include the 10- and 25-meter wheelchair races, 10-meter assisted walk, 25- and 100-meter walks, and 50- and 100-meter runs. In the field, athletes will take part in the softball throw, tennis ball throw, standing long jump, and bocce. And just like the worldwide Olympics, athletes have been getting ready.
“They have to have a consent form, get a physical from their medical provider, and have been training prior to the event,” explained Shayla Jessup, and event organizer.
She was quick to say, however, that it’s not all about winning.
“I think one of the reasons people are drawn to Special Olympics is because it’s very pure, very organic,” she conjectured. “Everyone comes out — all the volunteers and community partners — with the same mindset, and no matter what place someone comes in, we’re all in celebration of the awesome things these athletes can accomplish. To see people’s faces light up when they win a medal or ribbon, whether it’s first place or sixth place — I think that’s what draws people.”
Awards are given out for first through eighth place in each event.
In addition to the field and track events, the site will also host Olympic Town, which gives those not eligible for Special Olympics a chance for recognition. With an unofficial softball toss, corn hole, and other games and activities, “everyone goes home with something,” according to Jessup.
Information booths will be set up for the day, and school mascots and Buster the Bus will be making rounds during the games.
Such an event requires work — lots of it. Jessup said they currently have 150 volunteers.
“I don’t think there could be too many volunteers,” she laughed. “There are so many different levels to making sure things run smoothly. We could always use more.”
Anyone wishing to help can register the day of the event. Special Olympics will take place Thursday, April 13, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Elizabethtown Middle School.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.