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Special Olympics success elicits gratitude from participants
Several Special Olympics student-athletes celebrate during medal ceremony after an event last week. - photo by Tyler Williams | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. -- LaTrelle Cawthon can rattle off the numbers with ease, and to a “t.” 

During last week’s annual Newton County Special Olympics event at Sharp Stadium, Cawthon counted out 492 students and teachers, 232 buddies — people who come along side to help the Special Olympics student-athletes along. Then there’s 123 community volunteers and 24 management team members. 

That’s the kind of man, woman and child power it took to pull of this year’s version of the Special Olympics. And although each year is a little bit different, Cawthon says she always walks away with it feeling pretty much the same. 

“The kids are amazing,” she said. “They’re absolutely amazing. To see them accomplish goals at the individual level, and to see them get so excited because, maybe they threw two inches further than last year or maybe even 10 feet further than last year. OR because they ran faster than last year, or even the fact that they got to run at all.” 

Almost on cue, as Cawthon was saying that, a young girl in a walker came by. Her name is Taylor Heyward, and she was all set to compete in the 50-yard dash. A cool feat in itself, made even more special, considering that this is the first time Heyward’s been able to compete while standing up. 

“She’s been in a wheelchair for years,” Cawthon said. “But now she’s up and walking and competing.” 

The events were somewhat similar to what you would find in typical field day or track meet. There were 50 and 100-yard dashes, a long jump event and a softball throw, complete with award podiums and medal ceremonies. 

Although the event got off to a slow start, thanks to Monday’s rain which postponed the opening day ceremonies until Friday, when Tuesday arrived, the sun shone brightly, and so did the young student-athletes who participated as well as the students who stood alongside them. 

It’s an event that Cawthon has been around for 15 years, seven of those as the event coordinator. And it never gets old for her. 

Volunteers came out in droves, from places such as First Baptist Academy, the Newton County Theme School’s beta club and Peachtree Academy. Most of those volunteers were buddies — students who come along side the athletes to provide them bunches of support. 

Teachers, like Kimberly Pullen and Brad Banks from Newton High, also came out to lend a helping hand, and to make it clear their reason for sacrificing their time. 

“This really isn’t about us,” Banks said. “It’s about these kids out here.” 

Said Pullen: “We’re just out here to do our part for them.” 

On Saturday, Cawthon was gratefully overwhelmed with the task of writing thank you notes to all who helped make the Special Olympics Games possible. But she wasn’t too busy to offer up a general message of gratitude to any and every person who had anything to do with last week’s event. 

“To the amazing people of Newton County, you’ll never know how much we appreciate your support,” Cawthon said. “Newton County Special Olympics could not do what we do without the amazing athletes, teachers, parents, student buddies, community volunteers and financial sponsors. Looking into the eyes of our athletes and seeing the excitement makes every penny spend and every minute of work worth it. 

“They are so deserving of our love. Seeing the connections made between our community and our special needs community is a unique opportunity that is so fitting of our loving town. I honestly have the most amazing job in the world.”