March 26, 2006 – The air was rich with hope Saturday morning as 30 athletes and 60 volunteers participated in the St. Thomas Area Special Olympics at the Charlotte Amalie High School track.
Surrounded by the joyful laughter of a couple-dozen children, Camellia W.J. Williams — mother of three and staunch supporter of her special Olympian athlete and son, Zinworth Christopher — said, "I am grateful for the Special Olympics. My son looks forward to the activities and positive camaraderie with friends."
Christopher has severe to profound sensor neural damage, Williams said. He was the first person in the Virgin Islands to receive a cochlear implant – a small, complex electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. The implant is surgically placed under the skin behind the ear, according to the Web site of the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders.
On Saturday, Christopher was beaming after coming in first place in the 50-meter dash.
The program — whose motto is "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt" — relies heavily on volunteers. Griffin McFarlane, a 16- year-old All Saints student who has volunteered for three years, said, "I heard about it and was amazed. Now I'm hooked."
Across the field where a softball throw was taking place, the morning air was interrupted by the cheers of onlookers as 11-year-old Special Olympian Christobel Rhymer, smiling broadly, tossed a softball down the field where volunteers were measuring the distance of each athlete's toss.
Attorney Archie Jennings, chairman of the Special Olympics Virgin Islands, looked on while encouraging those in the softball toss. He credited his passion for the Special Olympics to his mother, whose love for the special athletes influenced him.
Jennings and St. Croix chapter director Janice Lee are two of a group of local directors who have kept things moving for the athletes. In order to compete in the games, participants must be at least 8 years of age and have an intellectual disability or a cognitive delay or development disability.
Lee, a physical education teacher at Central High School on St. Croix, said the athletes do not have to be physically disabled.
Lee has been involved with the V.I. Special Olympics since 1977. She and her husband, Charles, started the V.I. chapter that year.
An international nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition, the Special Olympics was the brainchild of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Shriver started a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities at her home in 1962.
The first games were held July 20, 1968, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
Locally, the Special Olympians compete in tennis and basketball skills, softball and tennis ball tosses, long jumps, short distance races and 200-meter wheelchair races.
Judging by the enthusiasm, strength and joy displayed by the competitors Saturday, the organization is surely living up to its motto on St. Thomas.
Saturday's games were the precursor to the Chapter Games, which will be held May 13 on St. Croix.
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