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News > Servicemembers show up in force for Special Olympics
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 Sweltering heat, high altitude clouds and elevated humidity necessitated free water and sunscreen, funded by Special Olympics, D.C., which is in turn funded by the Congressional Labor/Health and Human Services/Education appropriations bill
 Special needs athletes gathered in such high concentrations provide a great opportunity for medical professionals to educate, and learn from, the athletes.
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Relay Race opens with unified relay race
Five servicemembers from each military branch open Day 2 of the D.C. Special Olympics participating in a unified relay team race with Special Olympics athletes during the games, held May 24-26 at the Catholic University of America’s athletic facility, Washington D.C. Special Olympics competitors were supported by 246 servicemembers representing every branch of the military.
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 D.C. Special Olympics
Servicemembers show up in force for Special Olympics

Posted 5/26/2011   Updated 5/26/2011 Email story   Print story


by Benjamin Newell

5/26/2011 - WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One thousand thirty-four athletes of all abilities from the Washington, D.C. area attended the D.C. Special Olympics, held May 24-26 at the Catholic University of America's athletic facility. Among the athletes was six-year-old Teon Jackson of Ferebee Hope Elementary School in Washington, D.C., who bobbed up and down as he watched five lanes of relaying athletes sprint around the track towards him.

"Come on, come on, I'm ready to go!" shouted Jackson, awaiting his teammate, and the baton. Jackson was the anchor for his team, receiving the relay baton and traversing the finish line for a fourth place finish. "We can do this, go, go, go!" he urged.

Though his team picked up a fourth place finish, Jackson spent some time on the victors pyramid, accepting clinking medals around his neck which hung almost to his waistline.

"To us, the competition aspect of this is critical," said Steve Hocker, Executive Director of D.C. Special Olympics. Mr.Hocker directs a staff of 6, organizing all Special Olympics events in the National Capital Region. He was augmented with 246 Airmen, Coast Guard members, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers who showed in force to support the 2011 Washington, D.C. Special Olympics May 24-26. "One of the things we do is place athletes with those of their own abilities, working to maintain a spirit of camaraderie among all the athletes," Mr. Hocker said. "Physical activity here promotes interaction, social skills, and if we can use competition to build that, all the better."

The pool of athletes competing this year was the largest since 1995, according to event organizers.

Jackson participated in a total of three events, and came away with a few new friends. "I've met five new people here," said Jackson. "They all wanted to race, and be the fastest, but I think I was."

Some servicemembers arrived in physical training uniforms, ready to compete alongside the athletes. Senior Master Sgt. Steven Mandell of Air Force District of Washington's manpower and personnel section raced in the opening relay event, which teamed up Special Olympics athletes with servicemembers. The Air Force team earned a fifth place finish alongside athletes and fellow servicemembers from the Army, Marines, Coast Guard, and Navy.

Awards for the opening relay were distributed by 844th Communications Group Commander Col. Anthony Thomas. "Look at the turnout here, and look at all the smiles we've got," said Colonel Thomas. "I've been looking forward to this, and I'm glad to be able to participate."

Athletes participate in a sleep-over at Catholic University dorms, developing social skills, and working with educators outside the classroom.

"I think the sleep-over portion of this is especially beneficial," said Bertina Melchor, Intellectual Disability instructor at Ferebee Elementary. "Last night I showed everyone how to make their bed, and put their clothes out for the morning. So it's really a chance to work on life skills and social skills while hanging out in the dorms together."

Staff Sgt. Latoya Osby, Army 88th Air Defense Artillery in Orlando, Fla., is a regular volunteer for Special Olympics events. Sergeant Osby applies her expertise as a recreational therapist to the field, ensuring athletes are healthy and ready for competition by monitoring softball toss competitors.

Special needs educators from Washington, D.C. advocate for larger community involvement for their students. They see an opportunity to work with the military as beneficial for all.

Richard Ware, teaching assistant at Ferebee, does his best to get seven athletes from his school to their events on time. "Most of these athletes may never see a military person, except in uniform, on television," he said. "So the great part here is that they get to see military people in a different light, and see how much they care."

Special needs athletes gathered in such high concentrations provide a great opportunity for medical professionals to educate, and learn from, the athletes. "Thanks to our Marine volunteers, we are able to survey participants with medical information packets," said Maire Sosaar, registered nurse and Volunteer Clinical Director for D.C. Special Olympics Health Promotion. "I was trained to put on this health promotion program for D.C. Special Olympics, which includes dental, vision, hearing and blood pressure checks, including a questionnaire where we follow athletes year-to-year and get a chance to educate them on how to make better decisions."

One of the stops for athletes is a broad tent, which holds booths where food, free sunscreen, and health information is dispensed. Over 90 athletes were given complete eye exams by three optometrists from the military and in private practice in Washington, D.C.

Sweltering heat, high altitude clouds and elevated humidity necessitated free water and sunscreen, funded by Special Olympics, D.C.

Tech. Sgt. Jo'shan Abdul-Jalaal, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Staff manpower and personnel, volunteered as a member of the Special Olympics delegation support team, Sergeant Abdul Jalaal worked with people who called to register. "I made sure all team members accounted for. Then we make sure each athlete ready for their event," said Sergeant Abdul Jalaal. "The importance of this event for the military is very high. These are people who need supported every day, so coming out just this one day is a way for us to give back."

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