478 Athletes compete in HC Spring Special Olympics

The Horry County Special Olympics were held today at Socastee High School in weather that chilled the bones as the athletes gathered around the mid-field ceremonial torch awaiting the official opening ceremonies. That chill was quickly warmed from the inside out when local athlete Savannah Thompson began a very moving rendition of the National Anthem.

With the torch lit, over 1000 volunteers in place, and 478 athletes bursting with excitement to begin, the collective group gave a hearty, “Let the games begin”.

Cones were setup, lanes were marked off, athletes were shuffled off to their respective events and a day that so many look forward to opened a five hour window of acceptance and joy for parents and athletes.

For volunteers like Robb Urbaniak of Socastee High School, this event is a must do every year. “Everyone gets so excited about participating in these events. And I love seeing their faces whenever they get to run and compete. Whether they come in first or whatever place they come in, they get so excited about being a part of this,” said Urbaniak while setting up track events on the visitor side of Socastee’s athletic field.

Bobbei Seay of Myrtle Beach took a vacation day from work to be a part of the games and described the event as her “day of mental release. It’s an opportunity for me to come out and be around folks that have a wonderful heart.”  Moments after that stirring rendition of the National Anthem, Seay’s eyes began to fill with tears of joy and although this was her 4th Special Olympics, she took every opportunity to engage and celebrate with the athletes.

WPDE’s Ed Piotrowski has served as the opening ceremony MC for the last 10 years and finds his own level of satisfaction from the day. “There is so much negativity in this world, but when you come out to an event like this everybody is a winner, everybody smiles and everybody has a fantastic time. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun to see these athletes out here enjoying the day and enjoying the camaraderie as well,” said Piotrowski shortly after posing for pictures with some of the athletes that recognized him from his nightly weather reports.

For the athletes and parents, this is an opportunity to get out and engage with their friends and make a few new ones as well.

Carol Westbrook’s daughter Amber participated in two separate events. “It’s great because she gets to participate and she feels like she’s a part of something. She’s made lots of friends, and she looks forward to it every year,” said Westbrook.  Amber agreed, “This event means so much to me. I feel like I’m a part of something and I’m really happy to be here.”

For Virginia Ballestero, the joy of watching her daughter participate was evident in her voice. “I’m so pleased with the entire community for all of their support, funding, and participation. Children with disabilities want to fully participate in everything. When they are doing this 25 meter walk or run, in their mind, they are running 100 mph. They are just so happy and so proud; this means the world to them.” Her daughter Maureen was loudly cheered while competing in her running event, the first Special Olympics she’s ever been able to participate in. The 17 year old sophomore at Myrtle Beach High School was recently medically released for the games. She didn’t win her event, but she won a great big hug from her family as she crossed the finish line just a few meters away.

Stories abounded on this day, as the sun finally made its way out and the temperatures climbed. There were tear jerkers, silly stories, and humorous ones as well.  Shannon Furtick was one of 18 volunteers from GS Scene and related the story of “one little girl who actually threw the ball so far that it hit someone. But, she was so excited because this was three years in row that she’s hit someone. It’s become her goal, to throw it so far that she hits someone.”  Furtick was quick to mention how proud the little girl was, and happy to be participating. “We had so many people come by and tell us how great the event was, but Special Olympics is always great. It’s always a warm feeling to be able to help with the kids and adults in our area.”

It was a day of warm feelings indeed. With so many hugs, ribbons, smiles, laughs, and cheers, the Special Olympics once again lived up to expectations and sent nearly 1500 people home with a day to remember forever, or at least until next year.

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