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Athletes go for gold in Special Olympics' Spring Games

Richmond County Daily Journal - 5/10/2019

May 09-- May 9--,ROCKINGHAM -- Athletes chased gold -- with the help of the green and gold -- all morning at the Richmond County Special Olympics Spring Games.

The annual event brings Richmond Senior High School students, local businesses and community members together to support a time for the athletes to compete and interact with their friends in ways they don't often get to do day-to-day. The students were each paired up with an athlete to guide them through their events and get to know them.

Rasheed Patrick, a defensive end for the Raiders, probably had the toughest job of any volunteer on the day: being paired with Justyce Stevenson, now a senior at RSHS, around Raider Stadium all morning. Stevenson bounded from one event to the next, doing cartwheels and collecting gold medals all along the way.

"I'm like Super Mario!" Stevenson declared after the 50-meter dash, a reference to the video game character that collected gold stars. "I'm getting gold on everything."

Patrick said the two had met during the football season when the special needs students would come stretch with the team.

"We're with them," Patrick said of the RSHS students' support for the Olympics athletes. "They might think nobody got them, but we got them."

Following the opening ceremony, in which the athletes circled the football field with their assigned volunteers led by Hamlet Police Chief Tommy McMasters carrying the torch alongside Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly and Sheriff James Clemmons, the games received a sizable donation.

Chris and Felicia Sachs, the owners of the Hide-A-Way Tavern on Billy Covington Road, raised $9,075 for the Special Olympics at their Buddy Roe Memorial Ride last weekend, a figure that Theressa Smith, who has organized the games for the last four years, said was the largest donation the Special Olympics has received in her memory.

"It was amazing. I can't even expressed how much it meant to me and my committee," Smith said of the donation in an interview Wednesday. "I spoke to so many people about what that's going to mean for program."

Chris Sachs said there were more than 50 riders on Saturday and 46 sponsors. Last weekend was the 10th year of the ride, now held in memory of the man who started it, William "Buddy" Roebuck, who passed in January 2018.

Smith said she decided to wait to learn how much money they raised at the same time the athletes did Wednesday, and became emotional as Chris Sachs handed her the check. The Special Olympics are entirely supported through donations and sponsorship. The money will allow the games to purchase new medals and new tents, Smith said.

"There are so many things we were in need of that we're going to be able to take care of with this money," she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering with or supporting the Special Olympics can call Smith at 910-206-0996.

There were around 500 people total in attendance, including 389 registered athletes and volunteers.

Elizabeth Horner, Roebuck's niece that inspired the initial bike rides to support the games, won gold in the 50-meter dash event Wednesday, which was her first time running it in the Spring Games.

"It was awesome!" Horner said. Horner has competed in a variety of events since she was eight years old, and this summer will compete in bowling in Raleigh.

"I'm going to do my best," she said.

Kim Grooms, a special education teacher at Mineral Springs Elementary School, said she enjoyed watching the athletes meet the RSHS cheerleaders on the field who they now recognize after so many interactions.

"It's such an awesome day," Grooms said. "(The athletes) are able to get recognition they don't normally get throughout the year."

Nathan King won gold in the 50-meter walk but all the while was congratulating his competitors on their efforts. Stevenson lost an intense race with Keith Wall, who lost his balance as he crossed the finish line, skinning his hands and knee -- but Stevenson was right there to help him up in a show of sportsmanship.

Wall's assigned volunteer, Garret Richardson, said Wall would be OK and that the two had clicked right away Wednesday.

"(Wall) really wanted it," Richardson said of Wall's effort in the event. "(Volunteering) is something I think everyone should be because it helps us be grateful for everything we have when you see them enjoying themselves."

Smith said she was grateful to the volunteers and family that came out to support the athletes.

"It's awesome to see how they bonded with (the athletes)," Smith said, lauding the students' willingness to follow the rule that no matter where their athlete goes, they need to be with them. "They really took their assignments to accompany and cheer the athletes on very seriously."

The Richmond County Special Olympics will send 21 athletes to the Summer Games in Raleigh May 31 through June 2, the largest group they have ever taken, according to Smith.

Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]


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