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Special Olympics celebrated at TD Bank in Mount Laurel

Burlington County Times - 6/11/2018

MOUNT LAUREL — Seven-year-old Emelia Johns doesn't let her developmental challenges stop her from being the best athlete she can be.

Emelia, who lives Hamilton, Mercer County, has down syndrome, and recently underwent hip surgery to treat her hip dysplasia. But one never would have guessed from watching Emelia run, jump, and play volleyball at TD Bank's rally to kickoff the 50th annual New Jersey Special Olympics Summer Games in Mount Laurel on Friday.

"Honestly, it's impressive when you look at what she's had to accomplish," said Emelia's father, Chris Johns. "She's my inspiration in a whole lot of ways."

Emelia will be one of 3,500 inspiring athletes and coaches to participate in this year's New Jersey Special Olympics at The College of New Jersey this weekend, which brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities through sports and health and wellness activities. All are welcome to play sports through Special Olympics free of charge, but only athletes who undergo training are eligible to compete in the games.

Not only was Emelia selected to run track and field this year, but she was chosen to accept a torch at Friday's rally from the Mount Laurel Police Department as part of the statewide Law Enforcement Torch Run. Officers pass the torch relay-style from town to town until reaching TCNJ, when law enforcement will light a torch to kick off the Special Olympics. The run raises funds and public awareness for the games.

In Burlington County, the Torch Run began in Bordentown and continued down Route 130 before taking a loop thorough Riverside, Riverton and Palmyra, then turning onto Riverton Road in Cinnaminson to hit Moorestown, Maple Shade, and Cherry Hill before finishing in Pennsauken, Camden County. The Mount Laurel event served as a "satellite run."

After Mount Laurel police passed Emelia the torch, she ran through a crowd of dozens of cheering TD Bank employees and her fellow athletes, at times pumping her fists in the air or sporting a "warrior" pose.

It's athletes like Emelia that show the world people with special needs can thrive in arenas people may not think of, said Howard Mayor, a Special Olympics tennis coach from Mount Laurel.

"It's their opportunity to show what they can do and change perceptions," Mayor said.

 
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