The Special Olympics Indiana Jackson County athletes got their feet wet in a couple of ways Saturday.
For many of them, the Area 2 track and field meet was their first time competing in the sport.
Then with rain coming down for most of the nearly five-hour event, they were pretty much wet from head to toe.
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The weather, however, didn’t prevent them from giving it their all while competing and smiling when they finished and received a medal or a ribbon.
“We literally got our feet wet,” County Coordinator Crystal Ackeret said.
No athletes complained about the weather, though. They just persevered and had a good time.
“I thought that was amazing. They could have scratched because of the weather. No one would have blamed them. It was cold and rainy,” Ackeret said. “They were determined to finish.”
To make her day even better, Ackeret got to watch two of her daughters, Haley and Nevaeh, compete in track and field events, and her other daughter, Hannah, was among the students from Seymour High School volunteering at the meet.
“Haley and Nevaeh gave it all they had, and whether they got gold or a ribbon, that is all I ask, just do your best,” Crystal said. “Hannah loves to volunteer, and I love that. I love the kindness that she shows. I’m just a proud mom.”
Jackson County had 20 athletes competing in the Area 2 meet. By doing so, they will have an opportunity to compete in the Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games on June 7, 8 and 9 in Terre Haute.
“As county coordinator, I am so proud of the hard work all our athletes have put in. They all did very well today,” Crystal said. “I am proud of the CMT (county management team) that we have. We have all come together and figured out how things go. We have our first year in and learned a lot and have had so much fun as a team and with our athletes.”
Saturday’s meet kicked off with the opening ceremonies, where eight Special Olympics programs from the southern part of the state marched on the track with their banners.
Nevaeh, a student at Emerson Elementary School in Seymour, then led the recitation of the Special Olympics athlete oath before athletes headed to their first event.
By the end of the meet, Nevaeh was a triple winner, taking first in the long jump, mini javelin and 100-meter dash.
She said long jump was her favorite.
“Because when I ran back farther, it helped me jump farther,” Nevaeh said.
When she competed in the other two events, she said it helped to have people rooting for her.
“It feels really good,” she said of receiving three gold medals. “I’m going to show it to my teacher, and I’m going to hang it in my cubby.”
Jackson County athlete Kayla Kriete also received three gold medals, winning the long jump, 50-meter dash and softball toss.
When asked if she expected to win three times Saturday, Kriete smiled and said, “Yeah.”
“It makes me feel good,” she said of earning the medals.
Another Jackson County athlete, Alysha Sandlin, placed first in the softball toss and shot put and third in the 50-meter dash.
“I’m so excited to get first place. It felt awesome,” she said while proudly wearing her medals around her neck.
Sandlin had thrown a softball around 70 feet in practice, so she was excited to get to compete for the first time. She also said she liked trying shot put because it’s something different.
The best parts of the meet for Sandlin were having fun challenges with friends and meeting new people.
“We are all winners,” she said.
Teammate Cheroki Isgrigg finished first in the standing long jump and third in the 50-meter dash. She said having good concentration in the standing long jump helped her succeed.
Teammate Adam Lee placed first in the shot put, third in the 200-meter dash and fourth in the 100-meter dash.
He ended the meet with two medals and a ribbon.
“It means a lot to me because I put my heart into it,” Lee said. “It felt pretty good because I had practiced a lot, and I learned how to practice more. I enjoyed it.”
Members of the county management team helped ensure the athletes knew when it was time for them to participate in an event.
Jim Shepherd had been working with the shot put throwers in practices, so he spent a lot of time with that group Saturday.
“I felt like they all maxed out their performance. They did much better than they had been practicing,” he said. “I think everybody that did the shot put did more than they were practicing. Just the competition and going against people they don’t know, I think that brought it out in them a little bit.”
He also watched athletes compete in other events.
“It doesn’t matter if they win or lose, they are usually cheering each other on, even the people they don’t know,” Shepherd said. “They are pretty positive, and each group in the event ends up kind of forming their own camaraderie.”
For county management team members Donald Griffin II and Mary Carlson, the meet was an opportunity to watch their own children and cheer for the other athletes.
Griffin’s son, Jeremiah, competed in the shot put and 100-meter dash.
“I think it was a great experience for all of the athletes. They could better themselves in their events,” Donald said. “We’re all proud of them. They all did a fantastic job.”
Carlson’s daughter, Claire, competed in the 50-meter dash and softball toss.
“This was Claire’s first official Special Olympics event, and we were so proud of her,” Mary said. “It brought tears to my eyes seeing her get her medal.”
She also was proud of the other athletes.
“For them to come out and put their heart and soul into these events despite the rain makes me so happy,” Mary said.
Amanda Jones, coach of the Jackson County team, said she was blessed to be a part of her first meet.
“I see these athletes give it their all and achieve goals, and that is just amazing. To be a part of helping them reach their goals is just amazing,” she said.
“The highlight of the day was seeing the athletes receive awards and the smiles on their faces when they achieve their goals and finish their events,” she said. “Also, seeing the high-schoolers helping with this event is heartwarming.”
Her young daughter, Aaliyah, also came along and had a good time.
“Aaliyah has been wanting to help with Special Olympics, and she finally got to see firsthand what it feels like, and she even made a couple new friends,” Jones said. “It made my heart melt, really.”
Like the others, she was glad to see the athletes compete despite the weather.
“As far as the rain, we were wet, cold, but yet everyone was such good sports and still smiled on and pushed through the rain,” Jones said. “I am so proud of every single athlete today.”