Special Olympics produces smiles, awards all around

Lance Thompson’s daughter Savannah has competed in the Spring Special Olympics for the past 4 years. Savannah is a very recognizable figure around town, normally riding a motorized chair to scoot around the Beach Ball Classic. But, when her time to shine came in the 15 meter walk, it was as if someone had motorized her feet. That little girl can flat out run, running away with a first place ribbon and a huge smile.

“This is an opportunity for Savannah to get out and compete, and it’s amazing to see the kids and all the volunteers come out to help our kids” said Savannah’s father. “This is her 5th year in the Special Olympics and she starts talking about next year as soon as it’s over”

Opportunity was the key word during the Spring event held at Socastee High School in near perfect weather today. Close to 300 athletes competed with peers, while hundreds more cheered and connected with other families that were just like theirs.

Lisa Brown’s son Josh competed in several events and proudly wore his ribbons around his neck. She says “For Josh, he is so proud to compete. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, he’s part of a team. We have our family, but we have now become part of the Special Olympics family as well. This is something he can do with children just like him, and we’ve met families that are just like us, it’s really wonderful.”

Speaking of those volunteers, it takes 36 different organizations and classrooms to pull off such an event, and that’s not counting the schools that bring busloads of cheering sections, all to support and love on these athletes. Jennifer Ainsworth, an organizer for the event says “We prepare all year for this event. This gives our students with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to compete with their peers”.

Sandie Merriam, the Special Needs Science teacher at North Myrtle Beach Middle School says the kids have been excited about the event for weeks and “It gives them a chance to relax and enjoy a day of competition with their friends.”

The day certainly was about fun. In addition to the 4 events and multiple heats, the athletes also had the opportunity to play in a Fun Zone filled with inflatables and a DJ/Karaoke stage. Splash from the Myrtle Beach Pelicans distributed lots of hugs, Star Wars Storm Troopers posed for pictures, Ronald McDonald signed autographs, and Sharkee from Ripley’s Aquarium bounced around giving High Fives to the athletes. Michelle Legate from Ripley’s says “These are athletes that work year round, and we love to support them. We have a few employees that have family members that compete, so it brings it close to home for us.”

Kimberly Iannone was volunteering for the first time with a group that was formed at Bluegreen Resorts. “This has been awesome, it makes you appreciate what you have, and it makes you feel great to give back to others. I have a seven year old and this really touches my heart.”

Touching the heart, perhaps that was the theme of the day. Athletes with smiles on their faces, parents passionately talking about how important this was to their children and to their family, volunteers cheering loudly and then silently wiping away that little tear of joy in their eyes. A day at the Special Olympics provides a memory for so many involved, and today memories were certainly made.

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