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Their special day

May 25, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Tony Gessford says he participates in the Special Olympics because he "wants to be a good example for the others."

Lee Jones participates "because I love doing this stuff and because I love sports."

Stacey Pittsnogle says it keeps her "out of trouble," a comment backed by her mother, Joanna Cole.

"She's a teenager," Cole said. "She can get in a lot of trouble."

The three were among 83 participants, ages 8 to 74, who competed in the 32nd Berkeley County Special Olympics on Saturday at Martinsburg High School.

The competitions - 50-, 100- and 200-meter runs, running long jump, shot put, softball throw and wheelchair events - were held in the morning at the high school track. A picnic and awards ceremony at Tuscarora Elementary School followed in the afternoon and evening.

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In the event, fashioned after the International Olympic Games, winners receive gold, silver and bronze medals. All participants receive ribbons and medals.

Some of Saturday's athletes will advance to the West Virginia Special Olympics on June 6 and 7 at West Virginia University in Morgantown, said Ginnie Molner, director of the Berkeley County event for 15 years.

Last year 32 athletes from Berkeley County competed at WVU, she said.

"They love hearing their names over the loudspeakers at the closing ceremony," said Stewart Borger, 57, the official voice of Berkeley County's Special Olympics since they began in 1971. He announces the competition and is emcee at the awards ceremony.

"They are very positive about themselves," Molner said of the Olympians. "They know their limitations, but still remain positive and upbeat about what they can bring to life every day. They aren't afraid to try new things and accept new challenges."

Most of the athletes live in area group homes. A few live at home with families, Molner said.

Statewide, there are more than 10,000 Special Olympians, she said.

The athletes take the competitions seriously.

"They've been training twice a week since the first week in April," she said.

Gessford, 40, won the Athlete of the Year award last year, Molner said. He came in first in the shot put and second in the 100-meter run Saturday.

"I do this because I'm still part kid and I like to run," he said.

Jones, 36, said he loves sports and his coaches.

"I play basketball, volleyball and track and field to stay in shape," he said.

Last year he was a member of the Berkeley County Special Olympics basketball team.

"We went to Charleston and brought back the gold," he said. "Our programs are more than just this track meet today. Most athletes go from one sport to another."

Pittsnogle, 17, came in first in shot put and the running long jump and third in the 100-meter run.

"I've been competing for five years and this is my best year so far," she said. "I like it because it gives me a chance to do things with other people and to help the others."

"She's doing great," her mother said. "I've seen changes in her. She's more confident and she enjoys being with the other athletes."

Tiffany Fowler, 22, came to Saturday's competition determined to win two medals. She ended up with three - third in the running long jump and 100-meter run and second in the shot put.

"This keeps me active and gives me exercise," she said.

Her mother and others help with her training.

"They get me out walking and running," she said.

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