They're going for gold on the Emerald Isle

Two local athletes qualify for the Special Olympics in Ireland in 2003

Two local athletes qualify for the Special Olympics in Ireland in 2003

July 25, 2002|by CAILIN MCGOUGH

Two Washington County athletes who will travel to Ireland to compete in the largest sporting event of 2003 say they are only "a little nervous" about their time in the spotlight.

After taking first place in their events at the Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games, Lee Follet, 25, of Smithsburg, and Sarah Roney, 28, of Hagerstown, were selected from a lottery of gold-medal winners to represent Maryland in next summer's Special Olympics World Games.

More than 7,000 athletes from 160 countries will participate in the games beginning June 21, 2003, including eight coaches and 31 athletes from Maryland.


Through the Host Town Program, United States teams will stay in Belfast City for a week preceding the games. Irish families in the Dublin area, where most events will be held, will also house some families of athletes.

Sarah Roney's mother and Lee Follet's parents, brother and sister, will go along to cheer the games and see the sights.

"We were looking at a book and she said she wanted to see a castle," said Roney's mother, Carolyn Roney. "We've been trying to read up."

In only her second trip to the Maryland games, Sarah Roney competed with more than 100 other equestrian riders to take first place in Working Trails, an obstacle course event, Carolyn Roney said.

When Sarah Roney began taking therapeutic riding lessons at Star Equestrian Center in Hagerstown more than two years ago, her mother said she didn't know the center participated in Special Olympics.

Before she began riding, Sarah Roney participated in Special Olympics track and field, where she met Follet when she was about 10, Carolyn Roney said.

"Because of physical limitations, track and field events were hard for her. She enjoyed it mostly for social reasons; her friends were there," Carolyn Roney said.

At Star, Sarah Roney grooms and saddles Satin before guiding the horse through cones and around obstacles, trotting and riding on paths.

Rainbow-colored reigns help Sarah Roney know where to hold, and although a volunteer leads the horse, she does all of the controlling, Carolyn Roney said.

Sarah Roney does balance exercises during riding lessons by reaching down to hug the horse, touch her toes in the stirrups and turning around on the horse, Carolyn Roney said.

"She's really improved in balance and coordination since she's been taking the classes," Carolyn Roney said. "Plus, it's a lot of fun."

Lee Follet, who took first in the 200 meters and standing long jump at the Maryland games, almost didn't make it to the competition, said his mother, Vicki Follet. Bad weather kept him from all but the final qualifying meet held during the season.

Vicki Follet, who coaches her son's track team, also serves on the Special Olympics executive committee as competition director for Washington County and assistant director for Special Olympics of Washington County.

In practices next spring, Lee Follet will prepare to compete in the 200 meters, standing long jump and shot put, Vicki Follet said.

After running the 50 and 100 meters, Vicki Follet said she pushed Lee Follet to try the 200 meters a few years ago. Now, he said he likes the 200 the best.

Like Sarah Roney, the activity has been therapeutic for Lee Follet. In addition to track and field, he plays basketball, floor hockey and soccer, fishes, bowls, and runs cross country. But when Lee Follet started track and field at age 8, he couldn't run or get both feet off the ground, Vicki Follet said.

The sports have not only helped his physical condition but have given him a self-esteem boost, said his father, John Follet.

"He doesn't want to ride home with us - he wants to ride home on the bus with his friends," Vicki Follet said.

Lee Follet also served on the Athlete's Congress for three years, reworking policies and fine-tuning guidelines of the state's Special Olympics. In 1992, he was among 50 athletes chosen to walk in President Clinton's inaugural parade. And in 1998, he was given a sportsmanship award at the Maryland games after he ran out of his shoe during a relay and kept going. His team took gold in the race, Vicki Follet said.

"Through the Special Olympics, he certainly has done a lot of different things we've never expected," Vicki Follet said.

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