• 72°

Special Olympics kicks off tonight

The Alabama Special Olympics is fun and games, but it’s really so much more.

“A special athlete that was here for church camp youth rally, came up to me and said ‘I can’t wait to come to the Olympics in two weeks,’” said Herb Reeves, Troy University’s dean of student services. “It’s the highlight of his life, ya know.”

What started as a summer day camp for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Maryland 48 years ago has evolved into a nationally recognized and accepted sporting event.

This is Troy University’s fourth year to host the Alabama Special Olympics. Each county in Alabama has to qualify and the State Special is held at Troy University. It is expected that 1,400 coaches, athletes and chaperones will participate.

The opening ceremonies will ignite Friday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. with the lighting of the torch. The beginning of the ceremony will be a reenactment of the “last leg” of the Torch Run since the run actually ends at 4 p.m.

“The athlete of the year (last year) and a law enforcement officer will run in and light the torch,” said Reeves. “This year, the officer will be from Homewood.”

According to Reeves, the purpose of the Special Olympics is to raise awareness and to give people with intellectual disabilities a chance to feel “normal” and be given a since of satisfaction.

“It allows these folks to have the opportunity to compete when they may not have had the chance to do so,” said Reeves. “Some of them (the athletes) live in group homes and don’t have the facilities for sports.”

The competition begins on Sat, May 15 at 9 a.m. with 10 sporting events: Aquatics, Bocce, Bowling, Equestrian, Golf, Gymnastics, Power-lifting, Softball, Tennis and Track and Field.

An award ceremony will take place after every event and if any athlete needs some time away from the events, they can visit Olympic Town, an activity area.

The Victory Dance and Parent Dinner will take place at the end of the night to celebrate all participants.

“I have never seen a special athlete quit, even if they ‘lose’ the race,” said Reeves. “Everyone is a winner.”

Throughout the day, the athletes will have the opportunity to see volunteer doctors through the Healthy Athletes program that will offer health screenings in the seven medical disciplines.

During the closing ceremonies scheduled for Sun, May 16 at 8:30 a.m., the Special Olympics will recognize the Alabama national team and the fallen Olympians that were lost along the way.