Despite the devastation brought on by the aftermath of two category five hurricanes, the annual Special Olympics will still be held on Saturday, April 7 at the St. Croix Renaissance sports field.
Janice Lee, who is marking her 41st year spearheading the event said, although she and several stalwart volunteers are still navigating the process of repairing and rebuilding their homes which were completely or partially destroyed by hurricane Maria which passed through the territory almost six months ago, they have temporarily put aside those repairs to concentrate on hosting the premier annual sporting event for athletes with special needs.
“Half my roof is gone”, Lee said, “and when the rains come it just adds to the problems, but for now I am just concentrating on the games.”
Athletes and volunteers are asked to arrive on time at 9 a.m. The opening ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. The games will include a 25-meter race for athletes in wheelchairs and those with mobility restrictions. 25, 100 and 220 runs will be held, as well as a 4 by 100 relay for the older athletes. Other events include the standing long jump, the soft ball and tennis ball throw and the basketball skills workshop. There will be tennis games and basketball games.
Lee said the athletes and the public will be pleased at the condition of the field. She said thanks to Jehanger Zachariah and Joey Ramos of Renaissance, the track has been scraped and smoothed and the tennis court repaired. Staff from the Department of Sports and Recreation will mark the track prior to the start of the games. “It’s a community effort”, Lee said.
However, there still are some hurdles to overcome according to Lee. Because of the changes to the school schedule and students assigned to different schools at different times, many of the applications that need to be filled out by the athletes’ parents have not been returned to the Special Olympics team. Lee said volunteers visited every school, distributing the application and talking to school administrators and parents, but she encourages the parents to return the completed applications to the schools.
“It’s important for the children to participate in the games”, Lee said. “The sportsmanship is good for their development and they can connect with friends they have not seen in a while and make new friends.” The committee uses the applications to develop the roster for the various events so every athlete is accounted for and participates in at least three events according to his or her ability.
The other shortfall Lee noted is in donations of hot dogs, hamburgers, veggie burgers, buns and condiments. The athletes and the volunteers eat free, everyone else is charged a minimal fee, Lee said.
It is always a labor of love for Janice Lee and the Special Olympic volunteers, but she recognizes the hurricane recovery has brought its own challenges; both for the games and for the organizers.
“We have accomplished a lot just by having the games this year. But we do it because we know the children are so excited to have their day,” Lee said.
If you would like to donate to the Special Olympics, please call Janice Lee at 340-643-6557.