Five runners formed a row across the track. The morning was cool, windy — ready to work against them. A starting gun fired. And they were off.
Gadsden Special Olympics hosted summer games March 13 at East Gadsden High School. Events included shot put, long jump and various races. Special-needs students and graduates from all over the county participated.
“They start talking about this day at the beginning of the school year,” said Jennifer Pyburn, Gadsden Special Olympics director.
The Special Olympics has no age limit. Robert Jackson, 54, was the oldest participant. He has competed in the program for 42 years.
“It keeps me going,’ said Jackson. “It’s become a part of me now.”
Jackson was sipping on a bottle of water, preparing for his next event: the 400-meter walk.
“I hope it goes fine,” he said. “It’s my favorite event. I’ve done it a long time.”
Jackson wasn’t the only participant who came to win.
They’re very competitive,” said Sharon Thomas, director of exceptional student education at Gadsden County Schools. “It’s OK to be competitive. It’s OK to have expectations. These expectations will carry over into the classroom.”
Select competitors will have an opportunity to compete April 5 in Tallahassee with other Special Olympians from Wakulla, Taylor and Leon County.
“They all want to go there,” said Pyburn. “It’s a good time.”
From Tallahassee, a smaller group can progress to the state competition May 15 to 17 in Orlando.
Jackson is particularly interested in progressing to the next level.
“I keep practicing my walk,” he said. “I walk every day.”
Annie Trueblood, the games coordinator, trained the participants. Their routine involved a warm up, a work out and a cool down. Trueblood included callisthenic exercises to improve the athletes’ endurance.
“They don’t complain,” said Trueblood. “They always try to give you what you ask. It’s a really easy group to work with because you don’t have to motivate them. They come ready.”
A small army of volunteers helped make the event possible. They were busy timing, measuring or recording events. The competitors were also assigned a buddy, a person to help them through the day.
The volunteers came from the Key Club and JROTC at EGHS, the Beta Club at Robert F. Munroe High School and the Pilot Club in Quincy.
“We’re always looking for volunteers and supporters,” said Thomas. “We want to get more fans in the stands.”