Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Special Olympics Athletes 'Motivating' to Volunteers; Opening Ceremony Was Dedicated to Athlete Who Died Recently

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Special Olympics Athletes 'Motivating' to Volunteers; Opening Ceremony Was Dedicated to Athlete Who Died Recently

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

ST. MARYS - Stephanie Waldron learned a valuable lesson Tuesday thanks to Bryant Butler, a Camden County High School student.

Waldron, a petty officer 3rd class at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, said she was "amazed" at Butler's enthusiasm after he finished next to last in a 100-meter race.

Butler, 18, pumped his fist after crossing the finish line and let out a yell that typically a first-place finisher would make.

"He felt like he did great and that's all that matters," Waldron said. "It's pretty motivating."

Waldron wasn't alone in marveling at the joy participants showed while competing in the regional competition for the Special Olympics at Kings Bay, regardless of where they finished.

Jason Els, a petty officer 1st class at Kings Bay, said his job for the day was to accompany Tashon Thomas, a 13-year-old Ware County Middle School student.

Tashon was among the leaders after he competed in a sprint competition. Els' job was to stay close to Tashon through every event.

"I'm glad he only ran the 100-meter once," Els said after running behind Tashon during the race. "If he ran the 200-meter, I'd be walking."

Els said his first experience as a Special Olympics volunteer was more gratifying than he could have ever expected because of the camaraderie the athletes showed. Els said it was also a learning experience because he has had little contact with people with the physical and mental challenges facing many of the athletes participating in the games.

"Every one of them have their own personalities," he said. "I have no regrets about doing this. I will volunteer again."

The event coordinator, Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Madison, said every volunteer participated in training sessions to help prepare them for the games.

"The main thing is to understand the special needs of the kids coming here," he said. …

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