Fort Gordon welcomed an estimated 750 athletes from 12 counties spanning across Georgia and South Carolina for the region’s Special Olympics Georgia Area 9 Spring Games held April 12 on Barton Field. It was the 33rd year Fort Gordon hosted the games.
Destiny Chance and Kelsey Walker, WFXG FOX 54 morning news anchors, were this year’s masters of ceremony, with Col. Michael Weber, Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center commander hosting the event.
In traditional opening ceremony fashion, athletes paraded along Barton Field to cheers and applause from hundreds of supporters including athletes’ families, service members, event coordinators and volunteers. Tommy Peebles, an athlete from McDuffie County, led the way carrying an Olympic torch, which he used to light the game’s cauldron symbolizing the game’s official commencement.
An enthusiastic Weber took to the stage and welcomed everyone to Fort Gordon. Weber said hosting the event is an honor that the Fort Gordon community looks forward to every year.
“Hosting the Special Olympics is one way Fort Gordon gives back to the region which has always shown strong support for Fort Gordon,” Weber said. “To all of our competitors, we are going to do all that we can to ensure that your time with us is enjoyable and successful.”
Backing Weber’s assurance were about 400 volunteers who were mostly active duty service members that included Soldiers from the 282nd Army Band Detachment, who provided live music.
Weber thanked them along with special education personnel and the athletes.
Shifting his focus to the latter, Weber offered some encouragement before the athletes began the competition.
“ Remember the Special Olympics Oath: ‘Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,’” Weber said. “Your determination, motivation and courage to participate make you winners in my book.”
Athletes competed in the 50-meter dash, softball throw, running long jump, standing broad jump, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash, shot put, relays, bean bag toss, tennis ball throw and wheelchair races.
Prior to the spring games, athletes compete in a local competition before advancing. Approximately 200 top finishing athletes from the spring games move on to compete in the state summer games May 19-21 at Emory University in Atlanta, said Arthur Dickerson, chairman of Area 9 Special Olympics.
Dickerson, a Special Olympics organizer since 1983, said the event is an important for many athletes because they don’t have many opportunities to participate in other sporting events. It’s so important that many of them train year-round.
“Special Olympics is designed strictly for the athletes,” Dickerson said. “We break it down to where they can participate.”
Julie Prescott’s son, Chuck, has been competing in Special Olympics for almost as long as she can remember. Chuck, a ninth grader at Jefferson County High School, gets a thrill from ribbons he wins from participating; so much so that Julie purchased a display for ribbons he has won through the years.
“When we go home, we add his new ribbons and make a big deal out of it,” Julie said. “He just loves it.”
Tripp, a fourth grader at Euchee Creek Elementary School in Grovetown, has participated in the Special Olympics for four years. His father, Lt. Col. Joseph Meek, a family nurse practitioner with DDEAMC, said the competition is for the parents as much as it the athletes.
“It’s just good to be around other parents who also have kids with special needs, many times you feel as if you’re on your own dealing with these challenges,” Meek said. “This helps you know that there’s a huge community.”
Volunteering for his third Special Olympics, Sgt. 1st Class Truck Carlson, Behavioral Health NCOIC, DDEAMC, described it as his favorite day of year.
“ You think you’ve got it tough, then look at some of the things that these people with different abilities overcome,” Carlson said. “The humbling experience of watching people with different abilities push themselves gives such a wonderful perspective.”