The EKU campus was brimming with pride, joy and excitement Saturday as 1,115 athletes from across the state took part in the 2006 Special Olympics Kentucky Summer Games, conducted in Richmond for the past 12 years.
"It's been terrific," said Mark Buerger, communications director for Special Olympics Kentucky. "We've seen it grow a bit every year."
A crowd of nearly 2,500 was present at the games, including more than 1,000 coaches and volunteers who aided and guided the athletes through track and field, swimming, power lifting, soccer and gymnastics events.
"Anytime you can get that many people together for any reason, it's a special thing," he said. "Especially when so many people are here to support the athletes and make their weekend the best it can be."
Nearly 2,000 medals were awarded in more than 500 separate divisions; however, competitors and volunteers agree that winning a medal is not what the games are about.
"It's all about teamwork," said Alyssa Yorty, 17, of Richmond, who competed in the 100-meter dash, standing long jump and unified relay events. "It's also about being together. ... We'll do our best. If we stumble on our defeat, we won't get anywhere. But if we taste sweet victory, that means we have won."
"It's about coming together as a state, being with other athletes and meeting new people," said Erin Moore, coach for the Madison County team and local coordinator of Madison County Special Olympics. "There are so many opportunities here for the athletes. They get to compete, socialize at the dance, go to Olympic Town and play games. ... It's a wonderful weekend for everybody. People from fifth place to first place all have smiles on their faces."
The mood was cheerful at every event as enthusiastic athletes congratulated each other on their accomplishments.
"It feels great," said Amanda Hearn of the Carroll County team, who won a gold medal for her 50-meter dash.
"I've been training for this for all of the track season," said Kimberly Miller of Bowling Green, a 50-meter dash first-place winner. "It's fun and exciting."
"I'm proud that I got second place," said Leslie Jones of Louisville, who competed in the 50- and 100-meter dash events for the third time.
Besides competing in the events, athletes and their families participated in a host of activities that took place in Olympic Town, a festival area where attendants could play bingo, tic-tac-toe and peg ring toss, get a temporary tattoo, watch karate demonstrations and eat cotton candy and snow cones, among various other things.
Also in Olympic Town, athletes could get free vision, dental, foot and physical therapy screenings at the Healthy Athletes Wellness Village. At the Opening Eyes vision booth, those who were determined to need eyeglasses received a pair free of charge.
The $100,000 event is offered to athletes and their families entirely free of charge, thanks in great part to the games' many sponsors, partners and volunteers.
"This whole community is so supportive of this event," Buerger said.
The volunteers also were happy to be part of the event.
"It's a great cause," said Patrick Woods, who went to EKU on a track scholarship in the 80s and has been volunteering with the summer games for the past 20 years. "If we didn't do it, nobody would."
"I think it's awesome," said EKU graduate Carlene Webb, who volunteered with the track events. "For those who run the entire track, I can't do it. It's so inspiring to see someone with a disability running the whole track. It inspires me to want to improve myself."
Richmond athlete Michael Berry, 21, who placed second in a 50-meter dash event and competed in the softball throw, was excited about the dance after the closing ceremonies.
"I'm gonna boogie tonight," he said.
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