Special Olympics athletes display good sportsmanship

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    By Lesley Larson

    It”s not often that one sees a gold-medal-winning competitor do a cartwheel up to the winner”s rostrum. But signs of light-hearted, good sportsmanship were hard to miss Saturday, with hugs exchanged on the rostrum and high-fives all around.

    Undeterred by the heavy rain Friday (June 9, 2006), Special Olympics Summer Games went on as scheduled for the entire three-day stretch. Most of the events still took place in the originally scheduled locations at BYU without a single event cancelled due to inclement weather, said Jessica Byam, a BYU student and coordinator at the walk-on volunteer booth.

    Special Olympics, which began in Utah in 1969, aims to provide learning and confidence-building opportunities for the learning disabled, said Lyn Rees, who has been working with Special Olympics for more than 12 years.

    Opportunities for learning were available to athletes and volunteers alike Saturday.

    Matthew Huskinson, 16, a Special Olympic athlete on the Aggie team, has a whole slew of medals to evidence his participation in the last several Special Olympic Summer Games.

    Though his silver medal Saturday came at a greater cost than the others, he said, displaying a thickly bandaged arm.

    When trying to pass the eventual gold-medal-winner in the 400-meter race, Huskinson fell, with his elbow taking the brunt of the landing. But he took courage in a lesson his mother taught him, and just got right back up, he said.

    “You should just keep on moving, and don”t remember the bad thing that happened,” he said. “It”s one of the most important things in life to do.”

    Likewise, head volunteer of athlete registration, Daniel Nielsen, a junior at BYU, said he enjoyed his interactions with the athletes and learned from many of them. He would like to become even more involved in the future.

    “Working with people outside your comfort zone is just something you have to learn how to do,” Nielsen said. “But that feeling you have-like you are doing something for somebody else-that feels good.”

    Many athletes also expressed how good it felt to have cheers erupt from the volunteer cheering section as the athletes rounded the track. In fact, the cheering section is filled mostly with walk-on volunteers, at the request of the athletes, Byam said.

    It”s the consistently great fan support at BYU that makes this place a favorite of athlete Carl Cook, 39, from Salt Lake City.

    “I like to come to BYU,” he said. “We usually have a great turnout from start to finish.”

    By noon on Saturday, more than 300 walk-on volunteers had registered, with many coming from stake youth conference groups and BYU wards, Byam said.

    Adam Smithee, 14, was participating in his first stake youth conference with the Lakeridge Stake, and was one such volunteer.

    He said he didn”t originally want to wake up early and spend his Saturday volunteering at Special Olympics, although it didn”t take long for him to change his mind.

    “It”s fun to just cheer them [the athletes] on and try to get to know them,” he said. “It”s amazing to see how they react to what you say. I would definitely say it was worth giving up sleep to come.”

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