News Article Details

Supporters cheer as Special Olympics athletes strive

Wilson Daily Times - 5/5/2017

May 05--Gabby Hernandez, 6, crawls through a tunnel Thursday at the 43rd annual Special Olympics games held at Hunt High School. This was Gabby's first year participating in the spring games.

Gabby Hernandez, 6, crawls through a tunnel Thursday at the 43rd annual Special Olympics games held at Hunt High School. This was Gabby's first year participating in the spring games.

Olivia Neeley -- Times

Olivia Watson, 3, giggles as she throws a ball Thursday at the 43rd annual Special Olympics games held at Hunt High School.

Olivia Watson, 3, giggles as she throws a ball Thursday at the 43rd annual Special Olympics games held at Hunt High School.

Olivia Neeley -- Times

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Gabby Hernandez crawled through a tunnel, jumped on stepping blocks and balanced on beams.

You would have never known the 6-year-old, with long, brown pigtails and glasses, wore leg braces a year ago.

But on Thursday, it was Gabby's day to shine.

"It makes you so proud," said her mother, Gayle Hernandez. "It's a blessing to be a part of this and see how far she's grown."

This was Gabby's first year participating in the 43rd annual Special Olympics games held at Hunt High School. She was one of more than 400 athletes who spent the morning showing off their skills.

Gabby's mother said watching her daughter, an Elm City Elementary student, warmed her heart, especially since she's free of her leg braces now.

"She's so excited," Gayle Hernandez said. "It's amazing how resilient these kids are. Most of them have gone through so much. But they always smile. It's the simple things that make them happy."

The event, hosted by Wilson Parks and Recreation, brought out not only hundreds of athletes, but volunteers from various organizations and businesses for this year's spring games.

Officials said athletes from more than 27 schools and groups competed Thursday.

'HEARTS FILLED'

The Wilson Youth Council oversees the Young Athletes section of Special Olympics, which is for ages 4 though 8. There were 20 skill-based and practice game stations for young athletes Thursday.

While those athletes aren't old enough yet to compete on the main field, this particular area gets them ready for when they do.

"It allows the younger children to practice their skills and understand the field of competition before they are old enough to compete," said Theresa Mathis, Wilson Youth Council adviser.

From balance beams to jumping steps to bean bag throws as well as soccer and baseball, athletes couldn't get enough of the fun Thursday.

"The parachute is one of their favorites," Mathis said.

The Wilson Youth Council received another $500 grant this year, which was used to purchase a wheelchair tunnel. This is the seventh year in a row the council has received a grant to purchase equipment for the Young Athletes section.

"It's a great feeling to be able to impact them and get them ready for the next big event on the other side," said 18-year-old Samantha Cisneros, Wilson Youth Council team captain.

"I really like the feeling of helping people," said Ceci Sanchez, 18, also a team captain.

Mathis said for the teen volunteers, it's a life-changing event.

"Their eyes are opened," she said. "Their hearts are filled. And they have a chance to help others in a true compassionate way."

OPENING CEREMONY

The older athletes competed in various areas including the softball throw, 50-meter dash and short and long jump. Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf student Jason Moore couldn't stop smiling as he headed out to the football field to compete in the much-anticipated games. Jason also kicked off the event by lighting the torch in the opening ceremony. Cheers erupted from the crowd of onlookers and athletes.

He high-fived, hugged and fist-bumped his fellow athletes, inspiring them for the competition ahead.

All athletes receive a medal.

'A DAY FOR HER TO BE HERSELF'

Carrie and Aaron Watson looked on at their 3-year-old daughter, Olivia, who constantly giggled as she threw a large ball in the air.

"She's very excited to be here," her mother said.

Before the ceremony gets started each year, Hunt students and volunteers form a line just outside the fence before entering the field. It's a part of a tradition to welcome the athletes as they arrive.

And Olivia, a preschool student at Jones Elementary, couldn't get enough of it.

"She had to give every football player a hug in that line," said her mother, Carrie Watson.

Olivia's mother said it's a small community when it comes to special needs kids. And it makes her feel good to know that her daughter, even as young as 3, fits in for the day.

"It's a day for her to be herself," she said. "That's the big thing."

Olivia's teacher assistant Clarisa McCoy said watching the children compete each year brings her such joy.

"It's priceless," she said. "It makes them feel like, 'I am somebody.'"

olivia@wilsontimes.com -- 265-7879

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(c)2017 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.)

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