By Emily Mosier
The Special Olympics Alabama State Games returned to Troy University this past weekend for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
This is the 14th annual state games, and the 11th year the games have taken place at Troy University.
On the Troy campus, more than a thousand athletes, from ages 13 to 70, competed. The athletes raced and jumped. They tumbled during their gymnastics routine. They swam. They lifted weights. And from the stands, their loved ones cheered.
Mobile native April Edmonds is the mother of 16-year-old Demetric Carter. She said she was ecstatic to cheer on her son, who has cerebral palsy , while he competed in track and field.
“This is his first year competing, so it means a lot because it’s giving him something to believe in,” Edmonds said. “I hope that he walks away with the courage, knowing that he can do anything if he puts his mind to it.
“Where I’m from, there is not much that he can do, so something like this gives him an opportunity to feel like he can play sports and be involved.”
To celebrate the games coming back after its three-year hiatus, this year’s theme is “Rise with Us.”
“The theme means that we’re resurrecting the state games and rising back with the whole institution of state games here in Alabama,” said Special Olympics organizer and Dean of Student Services, Herbert Reeves.
The opening ceremony took place on Friday and featured a law enforcement torch-run in which law enforcement from all over the state ran through the city of Troy. Saturday’s competitions ended with a dance party, and the closing ceremonies on Sunday included a memorial service for athletes who have died in the last year.
Odelle Byrd was at the games cheering on 18-year-old Garrett McIntosh, who has down syndrome, while he competed in the 100-meter run.
“Unless you have experienced being around a child like Garrett, you don’t realize the joy that you get out of it,” Byrd said. “Just being able to make his life the best that it can be every day just brings all of us so much joy.”
Competition categories included swimming, bowling, bocce, track and field and, for the first time ever, cheerleading. Many of the athletes spent their entire season preparing for the Alabama State Games.
“It’s a huge accomplishment and a huge honor to get selected to go to state games,” said Coach and Special Olympics Director for Lee County, Elizabeth Coffman. “It makes my heart happy to see them be happy, and I’m proud of their accomplishments because they all work so hard.”
Reeves said the publicity of the games is good for Troy, and the experience is a great opportunity for both the athletes and volunteers.
“For all the people who volunteer and come, it’s an excellent experience for them,” Reeves said. “If they’ve never worked with special needs athletes before, it’s very rewarding to do that.”
The Dean of International Student Services, Maria Frigge, made volunteering a family event. Frigge said she has always wanted to volunteer for the Special Olympics and was honored to finally do so alongside her two children.
“I just hope [my kids] realize what they have and be happy for that and be happy to help other people,” Frigge said “It’s a great place to help because the joy that the athletes show when they win is like nothing else.”
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