Byline: Dan Scanlan, Staff writer
Neither rain nor lightning nor even a power failure could stop about 80 handicapped athletes from competing in the 14th annual Track and Field Meet for the Physically Challenged at Mandarin Oaks Elementary School on Thursday.
The running, tossing and racing events are normally held on the athletic track at Mandarin Middle School next door. But rain started falling as buses from exceptional student centers at Love Grove, Biltmore, Hendricks Avenue and Sabal Palm elementary schools began to roll up, so coaches rounded up the children, teachers and volunteers and joined Mandarin Oaks students to compete in their carpeted multipurpose room.
"It's going to be more for fun, not as competitive since we don't have the room," said Mandarin Oaks coach Bryan Boyer, laughing as the lights briefly went out, accompanied by a rattling thunderbolt outside and applause inside.
The track and field meet was started to give physically handicapped students a way to compete in sports events, as most don't get the chance at their schools. The meet normally lets children with physical disabilities, some in wheelchairs, walkers or leg braces or with artificial limbs, take part in 50-meter runs, plus beanbag, Frisbee and football distance competitions on the middle school track. All competitors receive ribbons and certificates they can show off at their school.
But with rain outside, it was time for Plan B inside, Love Grove Elementary School adaptive physical education coach Chris Solomon said as she and other coaches lined up four lanes on the carpeted floor with orange cones.
"It will be just as much fun," she assured students.
Out in the hallway, a wheelchair slalom was set down on the floor with masking tape and the Frisbee toss and beanbag toss were set up, as milling students anxiously waited for the games to begin.
"Every day for the past month, they have asked me, 'When is the track meet?' They were just thrilled the minute we turned on the road and saw the track," Solomon added. "They are OK that they are inside. We don't have a gym facility like this, so they are in awe of the size of this gymnasium, and they will have fun whatever they do."
Some students had pre-race jitters and received a verbal boost from volunteers such as Mandarin Oaks parent Janis Wetmore.
"Just run as fast as you can," she told two students. "Just do your best. Does anyone expect you to do any better than your best?"
First came the younger students who could run, followed by the older ones. Students in walkers were followed by those in manual wheelchairs, with fleet-of-foot teachers helping some, such as Sabal Palm student Joseph Williams, 7, who was cheered by classmates yelling "Come on, Joseph. …