1,500 Athletes Compete in Virginia Special Olympics - 8NEWS - WRIC | News Where You Live

1,500 Athletes Compete in Virginia Special Olympics

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Wheelchair race at VA Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games Wheelchair race at VA Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games
2014 VA Special Olympics athletes 2014 VA Special Olympics athletes
Steven Morris won 2 gold medals at 2014 VA Special Olympics Steven Morris won 2 gold medals at 2014 VA Special Olympics
Athletes received free dental work at VA Special Olympics Athletes received free dental work at VA Special Olympics
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - Around 1,500 athletes from across the Commonwealth competed in the Virginia Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games on Saturday.

Athletes competed in several events at the University of Richmond and across the city including, tennis, high-jump, swimming, running, walking, softball and wheelchair events.

Every year, Amanda Jackson anxiously awaits the return of the Special Olympics because she said it’s one of the few times where people with intellectual disabilities can shine. “To show other people who don’t know how to race in a wheelchair. We can do better than others,” Jackson said minutes before participating in a wheelchair race event.

Other athletes said it has changed their way of life. "The Olympics opened kind of doors up for me and made me interested in doing things. Since I’m in a chair I probably wouldn't be able to do the real thing but this is close to it,” said Houston Lee, III, who has been participating in the games for 30 years.

Thirteen-year-old Steven Morris competed in the statewide Olympics for the first time this year. “It’s fun,” he said. The teen, who has muscular dystrophy, won two gold medals. He participated in the 25M motorized obstacle and 50M motorized slalom.

Joyce Tucker, a Special Olympics Coach serving Petersburg area 16, brought several first-time athletes to the event, including 42-year-old Michelle Dean. "I was so happy to be in it! And it was something for me to do,” Dean said. “It just gives them the empowerment to have the ability to have confidence in themselves," Tucker said.

While hundreds of folks competed, more than one-thousand fans cheered them on from the stadium. Eight-year-old Wesley Walsh and his friend Ethan Levin made a sign and brought gifts for their five-year-old friend Nicholas, who suffers from autism and participated in a fun-run. "I brought these balloons and these are to come make Nicholas happy," said Walsh.

In addition to the sports, athletes also received free medical and dental screenings also offered free at the “Healthy Athletes” event. Off the field, participants could get eye and hearing exams and have dental work completed on-site.

"Dental care is the most prevalent unmet healthcare need in children and in special needs population,” said Dr. Matthew Cooke, healthy program special smiles director.

For the last few years, Missions of Mercy, an extension of the Virginia Dental Association Foundation, has partnered with the Special Olympics to help meet the need for dental care in the special needs community.

Over 40 doctors and dental students from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Pittsburgh provided more than $30,000-worth of dental work and performed more than 150 cleanings, fillings and tooth extractions.

The closing ceremony for the games was held at the University of Richmond Saturday night. Afterwards, there was a victory dance party.

Rick Jeffrey, president of Special Olympics Virginia summarized the whole event and said, "The mood is all about three things. It's about respect, inclusion and unity. So tonight, everybody is one; if you're here tonight, especially because we're all one.”

Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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