Community celebrates Special Olympians

A person who has never been to an Ellis County Special Olympics event may think the atmosphere would be that of guarded respect and caged joy.

Wednesday’s annual Special Olympics track and field meet at Lumpkins Stadium was the complete opposite, a celebration of the eternal bind cities across the county have with the special needs community and its athletes.

Special Olympians, volunteers and supporters from as far as Grand Prairie, Lancaster, Ferris, Duncanville and Italy joined together on the field for the event.

“Looking at how many people came to support them, it kind of looks like a football game. That’s just an example of how much those kids mean to us and each of the students at our school,” said Levi David, a WHS senior state-qualifying swimmer and varsity Indians pitcher.

David said he, like many of the athletes attending the meet who coached their friends in numerous events, was gracious for the opportunity to volunteer his time and support something much more important than himself.

He also has participated in the annual event each year he’s been at WHS, adding there are many others who internalize the importance of the blessing the special needs community brings to students’ lives.

“It’s really amazing to see what these kids can do,” David continued, his voice trembling slightly. “You don’t really realize what these kids are about until you come out and see how competitive they are. I won’t say it’s life changing. (But) it really changes your perspective on a lot of things. To watch them smile and step onto the podium, and watch them look at their medal, it makes you step out of your life and into theirs. It’s one of the most beautiful things I get to see every year.”

The meet is also something the city, its officials, educators and administrators have rallied around for more than three decades.

June Flowers, the head coach for the Waxahachie Special Olympics teams, is not only an example of the intimate connection and support system the area schools have with their special needs athletes, she has indoctrinated each of the 150-plus children and adults into her extended family.

“They’re just like my own kids. I’d go to war for them as much as I would for my own children at home,” Flowers said about her 19-year relationship with Waxahachie and 30-year association with the state’s special needs communities. “I’ve been doing this since I was 21. It’s all for them, though. They love to get out here and compete, win or lose.”

She said the support of the athletes and students is the true engine that makes the event run, noting there is no separation between special needs and able-bodied because of the strong familial bond each student has strived to build year after year.

Those bonds are never stronger than in the cases of Dominique and Earl Williams, 31-year-old identical twins who have competed in Special Olympics sports since they were 8, and their older sister Tiffany Esparza.

They’ve always been like that. They make anywhere they go a more fun place to be, Esparza said about her brothers’ impact on other young athletes competing as the jovial duo danced to music blared over the Lumpkins Stadium loudspeakers and high-fived nearly every person who passed by.

“We’ve been doing this for 21 years,” Dominique said testing the weight of the medal he beat his brother for in the 100-meter walk. “We graduated from WHS in 2003 and we love our fans and city. It’s fun, we just love running track and the fans love us back.”

Both men said fun aside, their competitive side comes out during the meets and when they encourage those they’ve competed alongside before and newcomers to the event — “rookies” to two-decade veterans like Dominique and Earl.

“Every year we come and support our fans,” Earl added. “They love to come see us and our teammates. We give them advice because we want to give our rookies a chance to win the gold and we love them. We came to win and every opponent that comes against us, we defeat them.”

The exuberance of well-known meet favorites like Dominique and Earl, as well as the little-known efforts of first-time Special Olympics athletes — like Life School Waxahachie’s Nicloe Alsup, Morgan Shore, Aranza Chavez, Brianna Carr, Katie Tharpe, Tahlie David, Chandler Cooper, Heaven Townley and Dylan Murphy — isn’t what brought an accomplished athlete like Shelby Martin, a junior outside hitter for the Lady Indians varsity volleyball team, to the meet as a freshman.

It’s what keeps her coming.

“I’m an athlete and there will be hard workouts, but when I question why I work this hard, I think about what they have to go through. When I see them giving their all, it makes everything so much more worthwhile,” Martin said. “I know I am blessed, but these kids are so grateful for what they have. It really puts our wants, desires and appreciation of our abilities into perspective.”

While the act of sprinting a 100-meter race, long jumping for distance or tossing a javelin may come naturally to athletes like David, Martin and track and field standout Kendyll Armstrong, each knows the amount of sacrifice, dedication and double-duty effort the athletes have to give to prepare for any Special Olympics event.

“They have such good hearts and they’re so innocent, but they don’t get the same opportunities we do nor the same amount of attention,” Armstrong said, building off the poignant words of her fellow Lady Indian. “The fact we can come out here and appreciate them is reason enough that we should and do. We don’t care about them only for what they struggle with, we care because they are our brothers and sisters.”

Contact the Daily Light sports desk at 469-517-1454 or contact the sports editor at kmatthews-marion@waxahachietx.com. Follow Khris on Twitter at @Khris5MarionWNI and the Waxahachie Daily Light on both Facebook and Twitter.