Young children across the world dream of one day earning an Olympic medal. Like many others, that dream came true for Ciona Graham and Jieam Smith at the annual Special Olympic Spring Games Tuesday.
The 5th annual Special Olympics Spring Games were held Tuesday at the track and football area of Clinton High School, bringing in more than 200 special athletes from across Sampson County. This event is one of the 19 events that are held annually and offer sports training and competitions in Olympic-style sports for nearly 40,000 individuals who are intellectually impaired. Events similar to the one held here in Sampson County are held across the state.
Ciona and Jieam, both second grade students at Butler Avenue School, were proud to show their medals and ribbons, both won for placing in the 50 meter dash.
“I’m just glad I get to go home and tell my dad I won a medal,” Ciona said.
This was the first time Ciona and Jieam participated in the annual games.
Beaming from ear to ear with a giant, infectious smile, Jieam said he loved everything about Tuesday’s events, but his favorite part was getting a chance to compete against his friends and win medals.
“I like everything,” Jieam said.
Charlotte Byrd, local Special Olympics coordinator, began working with the Special Olympics of Sampson County a few years ago and never imagined the impact it would have on the many children throughout the area who struggle daily with some form of disability.
According to Byrd, many of those individuals took part in Tuesday’s event, competing in three events and taking home medals. A quarter of those participants do not meet the Special Olympics North Carolina age requirement or do not care for the sporting events. Another 50 who are too young to compete participated in age-appropriate games and activities.
“Students with intellectual disabilities are not always able to participate in recreational and school sports,” Byrd explained. “These games allow them the chance to compete against other athletes of a similar age and ability.”
Participants in Tuesday’s games were from all five school districts in the county.
Athletes were able to compete in multiple events — the standing long jump, softball throw and 25 and 50 meter dashes. Medals were awarded to the top three in each category. Athletes are typically between the ages of 8-21, however, those who are not eligible by age, are still allowed to participate. Activities for the younger children are held throughout the day.
The local coordinator said she became involved with the Special Olympics because she hates to see wasted potential.
“I don’t like to see people who are capable not realize their potential — at any level,” Byrd said. “But especially those with disabilities. They are often underdogs. They constantly have to prove they have abilities along with their disabilities.”
Byrd stated that the event was made possible through the donations and support of area sponsors. Through a donation made by United Way of Sampson County and the food donated through Smithfield, Byrd said the athletic event was a success.
“Our sponsors are the reason these games are possible,” she attested. “Because of them we have everything we need for a great day of competition and community fellowship. Our medals, prizes, games and food are all because of the kind donations of our sponsors.”
Byrd said she has always hoped the special athletes would learn about goal setting and how hard work can help achieve results. This process, she said, is becoming easier each year for the many participants.
“The process of getting there has taken much longer than I thought, but it is catching on,” Byrd shared. “Every year I see more kids who are excited about competing in the Spring Games. They talk more about winning a medal instead of just showing up for a fun day.”
The overall goal for Tuesday, Byrd said, was making sure intellectually disabled children of Sampson County are involved in athletics.
“If at least one person with an intellectual disability participates in Spring Games and wants to achieve more or do more in this community then it was successful event,” Byrd said.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.