The Valdosta Daily Times
A day after activists sought to spotlight the destructive nature of the “r-word” on a national level, several hundred volunteers and young Olympians kicked off Area 15’s spring run of Georgia’s Special Olympics as athletes from the region’s nine member counties converged Thursday at Freedom Park.
A sprawl of event stations awaited the roughly 350 athletes who trekked to this season’s Lowndes County host site. They came from Atkinson, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Clinch, Echols, Lanier and Tift counties. Athletes Lakayla Eady and Desmond Thomas both stated they were most enthused about the running event, as they spoke with The Times between heats.
“It pushes you to run hard and it helps you focus your mind,” Eady said. “It’s a good way to keep your mind off of things, too. I also like jumping events, just to see how high I can jump.”
The heats change every 20 minutes, which allows a single athlete to compete in up to four sports, said Area 15 Coordinator Tammy Crosby. She said some of the day’s events included standing and running long jumps, 50- and 100-yard dashes, relay races, wheelchair races, individual softball skills and team volleyball.
Judy Howell said she drove from Hamilton County, Fla., to watch her grandson, Lowndes County native Darius Kelly, as he posted his best scores during the spring event. Though it was her first time attending the event in Lowndes, she said she has volunteered at Hamilton County’s Special Olympics events for years.
“I think these events are important because these kids need to know that they’re a part of this society, just like everyone else,” said Howell. “They deserve appreciation just like any other child, instead of being pushed aside and unrecognized.”
While the athletes left it all on the fields of Freedom Park Thursday, Lewis Gordon, an Olympian with special needs and a native of Valdosta, was in the District of Columbia lobbying for measures to help the country end its use of the word “retard” as a noun, Crosby said. A day before the six months of planning by the Valdosta/Lowndes Parks and Recreation Authority culminated in Thursday’s festivities, advocates promoted the Sixth Annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” day to combat careless use of the “r-word,” according to Charles White, Area 15 manager, who said the grassroots efforts were on-going.
“It’s a derogatory and hurtful word that we know our athletes don’t like, so we try to spread awareness and educate everyone about the use of the word,” said White. “Gov. Nathan Deal, last year, pledged an effort to remove the use of the word from our vocabularies. In two weeks, we’ll be at an Atlanta Hawks game and we’ll ask all in attendance to pledge to remove the word from their vocabularies.”
Crosby, also the VLPRA’s therapeutic supervisor, said the Parks and Recreation Authority has long hosted similar events. Celebrating all facets of the community has been one of the pillars of the authority’s mission, stated VLPRA Public Relations Director Jessica Blanton.
“Today isn’t just for the athletes,” said Blanton. “It’s an open and welcoming environment, and we invite everyone to come out to see what goes on, because it’s really special and important. We’re thankful for all of the volunteers, and we’re also thankful for the citizens who simple came out to make a day out of this.”
A date hasn’t been set for the fall games, which are said to feature bowling and basketball. Citizens who wish to learn more about Special Olympics Georgia may call Charles White, (229) 834-8277; or visit the organization online at SpecialOlympicsGa.org