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Special Olympics: For love of the games
Some participants spent months training
Kolleen Surig of Flowery Branch High School smiles as she heads for the finish line while winning the 50-meter motorized wheelchair event at the Special Olympics. - photo by Tom Reed

Some had been training year-round for the big event, others just for a few weeks.

But all disabled athletes, ranging from age 8 to 80, were invited to participate Wednesday in the local Special Olympics at Johnson High School.

More than 140 athletes competed in the Special Olympics spring games to test their track and field skills in sprinting, the shot put and softball throw, tennis and wheelchair races.

Rachel May of Special Olympics Georgia coordinated the event for Hall and Lumpkin Counties.

She said about 40 local high school students came to volunteer at the sporting event and some Hall County Parks and Leisure Services employees also lent a hand in the games.

"Track and field events are definitely our most popular sports," May said. "Bowling and bocce (ball) are really popular with the masters (age 22 and older), too."

For safety reasons, May said all athletes are required to have at least eight weeks of training to participate in the Special Olympics. Many athletes, however, train year-round to qualify for competition on the state level.

Winners of the local games will move onto the area games, where they have the chance to advance to state, national and international levels of competition.

The state-level Special Olympics games will be held at Emory University May 30 through June 2.

Gabby Sisk, 17, is a Lumpkin County High School student and placed first in the softball throw as well as in the 100-meter dash.

Two gold medals dangled around her neck as she said her favorite part of the day was the running event.

"I was very happy," she said.

"The first thing she told me was my mama will be proud," said her special education teacher Mariana Spahija.

Spahija said Sisk and seven other Lumpkin County High School students spent the last two months training for their events during physical education classes.

"This gives them the chance to participate in sports like average kids and to socialize with kids from other counties," Spahija said. "The most important thing is they get to be proud of themselves, which is good for their self-esteem."

Chloe Boullon, a Flowery Branch High School ninth-grader who volunteered at the Special Olympics event, said she was one of 11 Flowery Branch High School students who volunteered. Boullon said more students wanted to come, but were unable to because of final tests.

"I enjoyed it a lot," she said, adding that she hopes Flowery Branch High School will host the event next year.

"They just have simple joy and they take whatever they have and use it the best they can," she said. "They’re so much fun to be around."