By Bobbie Poynter / Features Editor
Tisha Duncan received a gold medal at Saturday’s slalom event. Neither she, the spectators, nor those waiting at the finish line seemed to notice or even care that it took her a whopping 78 seconds to get there or that her feet never once touched the ground. All anyone cared about was that she put everything she had into finishing the Wheelchair Slalom Race.
Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the top three finishers in each of the games at Saturday’s Extraordinary Olympic Challenge held at the First Baptist Church in London. But, the awards ceremony was only icing on the cake, as these determined athletes were inspired before and during each game by cheers and shouts of encouragement, and then by the love and hugs showered on each of them at the conclusion of each competition.
Each of the athletes was either physically or mentally challenged to some degree. They ranged from as young as 4 all the way to age 89. Athletes came from as far away as Mount Vernon, Jackson County, Harlan and even Pineville to participate in the 2nd annual Professional Home Health Extraordinary Olympic Challenge.
Saturday’s games were each structured toward the specific needs and abilities of the competitors. Competitions included track and field for runners, walkers, and even wheelchairs, softball distance throwing, shotput and free-throw basketball shooting. For those athletes who were mobility challenged or who could simply not handle the heat of the outdoors, there were developmental games, such as mini-cornhole, toddler basketball throw, tennis ball rolling and even a scaled-down version of Twister. There were even competitive card games for those participants who couldn’t compete physically.
The number of registered athletes more than tripled this year over last year’s event. But then, so did the number of volunteers, who could be found at the registration desk signing everyone in, adding chairs to the spectators’ area, running a stopwatch, cooking and giving away food, running game results to the podium, or running a shuttle back and forth to two different parking lots so the event goers reached their vehicles safely.
“To see this many athletes participate this year, it’s such a blessing, and it reinforces and validates the need for events like this, said Gerald Cloud, Vice president of Planning and Development at Health Directions, one of the many sponsors of the Extraordinary Games. “It shows breadth of compassion in this community through all of the individuals who have given their time and energy to help. Everybody will be worn out by the end of the games, but it’s well worth all the effort that goes into it. Every volunteer I talked to last year felt they had been more blessed than the athletes themselves.”
Not a single athlete went home empty handed Saturday. Each and every competitor received a medal or a certificate of participation for their effort, not to mention a wealth of free gifts and treats from the participating sponsors. Regardless of which award the athletes received, they were all rewarded with exuberant and thunderous applause at the end of each competition from not only their families and caregivers, but by the many volunteers whose sole purpose was to show appreciation for the athletes’ accomplishments.
And the athletes aren’t the only ones who will have something to show after Saturday’s events. Joyce Lewis, president of Professional Home Health Care and event organizer, said she plans to send a “thank you” to each and every volunteer, along with a DVD of the day’s events.
“You can’s thank them (volunteers) enough,” said Lewis. “The volunteers make it all happen. We dream it, we see it, but the volunteers do the heavy work.
Although this year’s games are over, as soon as the excitement wears down, Professional Home Health Care staff will begin preparing for next year’s games.
“Our goal is not necessarily to come up with a specific number next year,” said Debbie Carroll, Professional Home Health administrator. “We just want to make sure that everybody who wants to has the opportunity to compete, whether it be inside or outside of the county. Every individual should have the right to excel.
“Programs like this promote awareness through the attendance of both the athletes, sponsors and volunteers, as well as the community spectators. Many of our sponsors who participate bring their own children so that they can teach them that these athletes are not only special, but they have qualities that make them extraordinary.
“You just need to watch these individuals in an environment that is catered to their needs. You don’t have to be a superstar, you just need a super heart.”
Any individuals, families, or organizations who would like to help with next year’s Extraordinary Olympics can get in touch with Debbie Carroll or Carla Williams at 864-0724 or visit Extraordinary Olympic Challenge on Facebook.