Writing about Special Olympics: They Brought Home Bronze!
Wow! This interview was such an uplifting experience, and I can’t believe it’s been six years since the article below was published in The Woodlands Lifestyles & Homes magazine! In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month I thought it was appropriate to repost the feature and celebrate the achievements of some talented international travelers who competed in Greece.
By the way, I hope more bloggers will join me in writing about Special Olympics, Down Syndrome, (World) Blindness Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The links at the end of the article are great resources to start!
Local Athletes Earn Gold and Bronze at International Special Olympics
By Melanie Saxton
An amazing and rewarding time was had by 36 young Texans. The excitement has built this past year as Special Olympics athletes in Texas trained and qualified for the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games. Thirty-six Texans representing the USA flew to Athens, Greece to compete from June 25 through July. Many flew in the previous week and joined 7,500 athletes from 180 countries.
The excitement has built this past year as Special Olympics athletes in Texas trained and qualified for the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games. Thirty-six Texans representing the USA flew to Athens, Greece to compete from June 25 through July. Many flew in the previous week and joined 7,500 athletes from 180 countries.
Ten local athletes came home with medals to the delight of their families, fans, state and proud nation. Seven included Team Texas volleyball players Kimberly Bormaster, John Lakey, Lisa Lepley Patricia Threatt, Frank Tucker, Lindsey Wesneski and Katherine Richards, who all earned gold medals.
“It was the most amazing experience,” says Kim Richards, mother of Katherine. “I told my dad, a former teacher, that our time in Greece was better than any World History class I ever took.” The Richards family learned much from the families of other countries. “There were no borders. We became friends with an Iranian family through a translator. They cheered on our volleyball team and we cheered on their track athletes.
The volleyball team competed at the massive OAKA Olympic Stadium in the Athens Olympic Sport Complex. Katherine enjoyed the cultural exchange, from the food to the scenery to the people. “I really liked playing the other teams. Korea and Austria were fun. I liked talking to other countries and learning about them.”
Ambassadors, celebrities and politicians supported the athletes. Joe Jonas was a celebrity guest on July 4 and Special Olympics global ambassador Vanessa Williams and Stevie Wonder sang at the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony held at the historic Kallimarmaron Panthinaikon Olympic Stadium. The ceremony had its own unique tribute along with the lighting of the torch.
On Friday, June 24, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, led a Presidential Delegation to Greece to honor the Special Olympics programs which serve more than 3.7 million people with intellectual disabilities.
“I had no idea our athletes were going to meet Jill Biden,” says Richards. “I pulled a water bottle out of Katherine’s bag and noticed the Vice Presidential Seal. ‘How did you get THAT?’ I asked her. “Oh, Mrs. Biden brought a bottle for every one,’” she replied. The U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Daniel Smith, and his wife Diane held a party for all the U.S. parents at their residence in Athens. “It was great seeing Olympic gymnastic champion Bart Conner, along with two-time Olympic Medalist Michelle Kwan, mixing and visiting with us.”
The community in and around Houston also celebrates the accomplishments of the other three local medalists. Houstonian Heather Boyer competed at the Glyfada Golf Course “Konstantinos Karamanlis” and won a gold medal in golf. Houstonian Marcus Gary won bronze in 500m kayaking and competed at the Schinias Olympic Rowing & Canoeing Center. Richmond native Amanda Mickan won two bronze medals in cycling — one for the 10K race and one for the 25K race — and competed at the Hellinikon Olympic Complex. Mickan was featured in a recent Lifestyles and Homes article regarding her work with shelter animals and was CAPs 2009 Volunteer of the Year.
Local volunteers also devoted time and energy to Team Texas. Alan Hirschman coaches golf and Shirley Mendoza Gearon coaches tennis. “The trip to Athens was absolutely wonderful,” says Gearon. “I worked with Special Olympics tennis players from across the state and they played their hearts out!”
Tim Shriver is the Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics. “I think the secret is that you athletes never compete with anyone but yourself,” he told the crowds. “You only aim to do one thing, and that is to beat your best.” His sister, Maria Shriver, also attended the World Games. Their mother, the late Eunice Shriver, is the movement’s founder. She is beloved for having the vision to focus on athletics as a way to change the world for people with intellectual disabilities.
To learn more about national and international Special Olympics as well as Special Olympics in Texas, visit the following sites:
More reading: In addition to Writing About Special Olympics, check out my Writing About Down Syndrome blog post in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month.