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Athletes compete at regional Special Olympics

Brunswick News - 4/28/2017

April 28--ST. MARYS -- More than 350 athletes gathered Thursday at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay to participate in the 21st annual Region 16 Special Olympics.

The competitors ran, jumped, threw, kicked and demonstrated the type of sportsmanship that could serve as an example for even the highest paid professional athletes.

Base chaplain Lt. Travis Jewell, one of the event organizers, said more than 700 people volunteered to help with the annual games in a number of capacities from accompanying athletes and being responsible for their well being to awarding medals.

Jewell said it can be a learning experience for volunteers.

"It's easy to focus on yourself but in these events you put others' need above your own," he said. "It brings a lot of smiles to kids' faces. It opens eyes to the human spirit."

Volunteers learn how to interact with the athletes, some of which have challenges communicating, prior to their arrival, to they know what to expect. They also see the athletes make a genuine effort to compete even when they don't stand a chance to win, but they still celebrate once they hit the finish line.

"It's really a humbling experience," Jewell said. "They see people in a different light than before."

Gillermo Villasenor, a seaman at Kings Bay, said Thursday was the first time he had ever volunteered for Special Olympics. He accompanied Kasean Blue, a Camden County student who threw a ball more than 62 feet, the longest toss of the day. He also won the 100-yard dash later in the morning.

"This has been really cool. I really like it," Villasenor said.

Diedre Caralello said she was surprised when she accompanied Noelle Ryman during the 100-meter dash.

"I had a hard time keeping up with her," she said.

Noelle beamed with pride after she was awarded her medal.

"I'm running fast all day," she said.

But her goal after competing was to head to the bounce house, one of many fun activities set up for the athletes.

Capt. Brian Lepine, commanding officer at Kings Bay, credited the volunteers for taking the time to help with the event and the athletes who "are challenged in ways we can't comprehend."

"Without volunteers this event would not be possible and dreams and gold would not be reached by the Olympians today," he said. "Each of you it important to all of us."

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(c)2017 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)

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