This week, I had the amazing privilege of going to the Special Olympics to cover the annual event at Sharp Stadium.
I’ve volunteered a few times in this event in the past, but seeing it in a whole new aspect as I did this time, attending was an even greater experience that I’ll never forget.
As I have stated before, I am a firm believer that sports can bring people together and connect people emotionally in its own phenomenal way. This is exactly what happened last week during the Special Olympics, where a year-long planning process for the week’s events brought out hundreds of community members and volunteers to provide an amazing experience for the athletes.
Latrelle Cawthon, who has coordinated the event for seven years, but has been with the Special Olympics program for 15 years finds the outcome of each year’s event remarkable.
“The kids are amazing,” Cawthon remarked proudly. “To see them accomplish goals at their individual level, they just get so excited from it.”
While the athletes were competing in events like the softball throw, or the 50 yard dash, they were accompanied by dozens of volunteer buddies from the Newton County Theme School Beta Club and kids from First Baptist Academy, as well as some parents who were there to support their children.
Along with the buddies, companies and organizations tagged along in the effort to make the event memorable for children. One company in particular, Bard Medical, had several employees on site for the events volunteering wherever they were needed on a day that was declared “Bard Day” by Cawthon.
She said Bard usually brought out several employees each year on this day. I noted how one Bard employee made the comment that they were there to give back to the community and make a difference as I took their group photo.
Along with Bard volunteering, Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center had a display with a live turtle, and others brought animals such as dogs and baby goats to entertain the kids before and after they competed.
While I was walking around taking pictures, I found myself getting just as emotionally involved as the volunteers, buddies, parents, etc. I found myself clapping for kids as I took pictures of them crossing the finish line of the 50 yard dash. I was smiling from ear to ear at how excited the kids were receiving their medals.
One girl in particular, defined everything that sports is about and how it can sometimes make people emotional.
When talking with Cawthon, she explained to me that one of the kids competing, Taylor Heyward, was bound to a wheelchair for most of her life. This year, however, was different. Taylor would be running the 50 yard dash with her walker. “Our physical therapists in the county are wonderful,” Cawthon said.
This is one of those feel good stories that you see on SportsCenter Top 10, and I was right there to see it happen. As I snapped photos of Taylor running across the finish line with a group of people cheering her on, I found myself holding back tears at this amazing and brave girl who worked so hard to be able to accomplish a feat that likely would’ve been deemed close to impossible just a year ago.
This goes back to how sports can trigger a unique set of emotions that are unmatched. In all of the events and games I have covered so far, this has easily been one of my favorites. Seeing these kids, who go through so many challenges each day, come out and have such a great time was one of the most enjoyable things I have had the pleasure of watching.
Although I’ve volunteered as a buddy a few times for this event, being able to see it in a more complete perspective with all of the different events coming together to make a great day for the kids, was an experience I hope I have the pleasure of doing again.
Tyler Williams is a sports intern at The Covington News. Williams is a senior at Alcovy High School and is looking to make a career in sports journalism. He can be reached for story tips or sports calendar entries at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenTyler42.