Highlights From This Summer’s Special Olympics

Encore: September 03, 2014

It was a week of triumphs and thrills for athletes competing in the Special Olympics this past June. If you missed it, we have the highlights. NJTV News reporter Lauren Wanko was there from start to finish, and she has the story of the summer games that began in Newark.

The flames marked the beginning of it all, the beginning of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. After countless practice hours, nearly 3,500 athletes from every state in the nation proudly walked onto the stage during the opening ceremony at Prudential Center in Newark. It was the moment these athletes had eagerly waited for. After the event, many were overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

“It changed my life by helping others that cannot do things for themselves,” said Denise Navarro of Team New Jersey Bowling.

Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, the Special Olympics has since grown to include more than 4.4 million athletes with intellectual disabilities in 170 nations and more than 800,000 competitions around the world. The first USA Games took place in 2006 followed by the 2010 games in Nebraska. New Jersey hosted this year’s events which included 16 Olympic-style team and individual sports. The week-long competition began with preliminaries, with athletes placed in divisions based on ability level.

Gymnast Lee Dockins represented Team Kentucky. She was simply thrilled to be part of the games.

“I work so hard on it. It’s my dream. It’s my favorite sport – gymnastics,” she said. “I don’t want to cry on this video but thank you so much!”

In the stands and on the sidelines, families cheered on along with 1,000 volunteer coaches like Team New Jersey Gymnastics Assistant Coach Shannon Schafer. These ladies call themselves the Fab 5. “I am truly in awe of every athlete that I work with but these young ladies, I tell you there’s a reason why we call ourselves the fab 5, my heart is just filled every time I work with them,” she said.

Gymnast Molly Herbert is just as grateful for her coaches. “They both love me and they are part of my family,” she told Wanko.

Later in the week, the enthusiasm heightened on the soccer field for the start of the medal-round competition. Team Pennsylvania’s Loretta Claiborne is 60 years old, and her team didn’t start the week on a winning streak.

“I said to my team members when one of them said we’re losing, I said ‘No God didn’t make no losers! I’m not a loser and you’re not a loser. We’re gonna do this!'” she said.

And together they did. “We won! It’s great to be a winner!” exclaimed her teammate Marshal.

“We’re all winners,” said Claiborne. “Whether we win a medal or not, it’s about being here!”

Finally, it was time for the award ceremony. It was a moment of celebration for all the athletes. When asked why he was crying, athlete Anthony Deaton said, “Because we won.”

“This is a thrill, I love this, it’s awesome it’s a wonderful feeling to win a medal, first time medal I ever won!” exclaimed another athlete.

On the last day of the events, the energy on the volley ball court was exhilarating. This was the final game for the athletes, and Team New Jersey Division Volleyball brought home the gold.

Whether these athletes left the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games with the gold – or without a medal – there’s no doubt they’re all champions.

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