VICTORY: Athletes wrap up Special Olympics games

Published 3:03 am Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Braden Jones of Talladega didn’t come to the Special Olympics to win anything less than gold, he said, but the games are about more than just medals too.

“I don’t really just want to win,” Jones said. “I want to do my best and meet everyone. It’s always fun to get to meet people and it’s nice to get with everybody.”

Braden has hypophosphatemic rickets, a condition that makes his bones softer and more easily bendable, confining him to a wheelchair to move around.

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His mother, Erin Jones, said the special Olympics give Braden an outlet to compete and feel normal with people that accept him.

“He loves it,” Jones said. “We strive to find things he can do that he feels comfortable with. He loves the acceptance. The people here are always smiling, there’s no judgment.”

Jones said fitting in has become more of a struggle as Braden has gotten older. “His size has become a struggle,” Jones said. “He lights up when he gets down here.”

Braden was supported during the games by his family and his friends at Outdoor Friends Forever, an organization founded by Jim Hardy to help kids with special needs participate in hunting, fishing and other outdoor adventures. Hardy was paralyzed from the waste down when his tree stand malfunctioned while he was hunting. Hardy and OFF volunteers Auston Deneve and Andy Cole were by Braden’s side Saturday as he competed.

Hardy is also a professional fisherman and has served as the head football coach at Victory Baptist School in Millbrook for the past four years, winning three state championships. At the latest state championship, Braden was there to receive the trophy and was named the team’s MVP just days before the special Olympics games.

Braden is just one of the athletes that competed over the weekend in the Special Olympics Alabama State Games.

Two local athletes representing Pike County were Milton Chambers and Brandon Rhodes.

Rhodes could not speak about the game, but it was evident by his contagious laughter that he was having a good time at the games, where he won a gold medal in the 50m run and also competed in the 50m softball throw.

Chambers had not yet gotten a chance to compete in the long jump or the 100m run, but said he was ready when his name was called.

“I go for the gold,” Chambers said. “I love to run. I’m fast like Rocky (Balboa) in ‘Rocky V.’”

Chambers said he uses the Rocky films and their music as motivation for the contests, specifically “Eye of the Tiger,” “Burning Heart,” and “Go for it.”

These are just a sampling of the hundreds of athletes that competed on Saturday in such various events as aquatics, equestrian, track and field, bocce, gymnastics, golf, softball, cycling and bowling.

Once the games wrapped up Saturday afternoon, the athletes all returned to the Trojan Arena for the closing ceremonies and the “Victory dance” featuring Elvis tribute artist Scot Bruce.

Before the celebration began, a solemn ceremony was observed with the lighting of candles in memory of special Olympics athletes and volunteers that had passed since the previous games.

Those remembered were Dustin Taylor, Grant Blair, Vale Shaw Bills, Tom Hall, Travis Windham, Lonnie Matthews, JK Little and Weaver Caten.

With the ceremonies closed out, the athletes rushed the floor as Bruce broke into the famous Elvis songs with several Olympians dressed as the iconic singer. Many of the athletes danced the night away to the music to celebrate another successful games.

Troy University has hosted the Special Olympics Alabama State Games for 11 years.