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Special Olympics coming to UWA

One of the biggest annual highlights of the University of West Alabama calendar is happening Thursday, when the campus again plays host to the Black Belt’s Special Olympics meet.

“This is a great part of the year for us,” says UWA’s Jason Gardner, director of the Special Olympics meet. “Everybody’s asking ‘When are the Special Olympics?’ ‘Hey, when are the Special Olympics going to be?'”

Gardner said this will be “at least the 20th year” that UWA has hosted the Black Belt’s Special Olympians’ special day. The meet will bring together approximately 70 competitors from six different counties (Sumter, Hale, Marengo, Perry, Greene, and Choctaw) to participate in 10 different events, including the 50 and 100 meter dashes, the standing long jump, the shotput, the softball throw, and the assisted walk. The Olympics will be held at the UWA intramural complex, beginning at 10 a.m.

Gardner says that the event is a great time not only for the Special Olympians themselves, but the UWA student volunteers who make up the event’s staff as well.

“For our students, this is an opportunity to watch and cheer for a different type of athlete,” he says. “The athletes that compete for UWA are athletes with peak-performance ability. Special Olympians are athletes with peak-performance heart. They’re always winners. Even if they finish last, just to cross the finish line is a huge accomplishment.”

Of course, the day means a great deal to Special Olympians.

“We’re happy to be able bring them to a college campus. This is what a lot of them want to do one day,” he says. “Whether they can or not, they want to be those college students, those college baseball or football players they see on TV. They’re saying ‘I wish I could do that’ and for a day they get to work with our students and feel like they are that college student.”

The event is open to the public and anyone can attend free of charge. All 10 events should be completed around lunchtime.

“We encourage anyone to come out and watch and cheer,” Gardner says. “You’ll have a great time.”

According to Gardner, no one appreciates the effort put into organizing the meet more than the athletes themselves.

“This is my eighth year working with it. It’s so much fun putting on an event for Special Olympic athletes because it means so much to them,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun…the really cool part, the best part, is to see them crossing that finish line.”