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Special Olympics torch passes through city

May 29, 2003|By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

When Lee Follett of Smithsburg was 4, experts looking at his hip problems and mental disabilities that stemmed in part from a fluid build-up in his brain never expected him to walk, his mother said.

Alan Artz II has mild mental retardation, autism and diabetes, and the latter two make physical activity difficult at best, his stepmother said.

But at just past noon Wednesday, state Special Olympians Artz, 17, and Follett, 26, flanked by police officers, strode into Hagerstown Wednesday with the Special Olympics torch, not even breaking a sweat.

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The torch is making a statewide tour, which will end Friday in College Park, where the games will be held at the University of Maryland. Follett and Artz will compete Saturday and Sunday.

Follett, a middle distance and relay racer, has been competing since he was 8. While he didn't actually carry the torch into Hagerstown, "it was fun" nonetheless, he said.

His mother, Vicki Follett, said he's a modest runner.

"When I caught up to him, his comment was 'I kept up with them,'" she said.

Vicki Follett said that three years ago, Lee won a sportsmanship award from the state Special Olympics Committee after a relay race. During a race, he lost a shoe, kept running and his team won the gold.

He and Hagerstown equestrian Sarah Roney, 28, will travel to Ireland in June to compete in the Special Olympics World Games.

But Lee Follett said for now, he has his sights set on this weekend.

"I hope to win all the gold medals," he said.

While Lee plays several other sports, he said he likes the competition and the self-esteem he gets from the sport.

"It keeps me a better person," he said.

Artz, 17, will make his first appearance at the state level, running the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter races. Last week, he won two gold medals and a silver last week in a preliminary race in Baltimore.

Artz, with a police escort, carried the Olympic torch to Public Square.

"It was good. It was great. ... My arms got tired from carrying the torch," Artz said.

Artz's stepmother, Diane Artz, said he runs three or four miles every day.

When he runs with his dad, Alan Artz Jr., "he puts his CD player and his headset on, and off he goes."

Alan Artz suffers from both autism and diabetes, which are logistically difficult to manage along with an active lifestyle.

Autism can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, Diane Artz said. When Alan gets excited about running, it is difficult to make sure he gets his daily routine of eight blood tests and four shots to combat diabetes.

"It's just a huge source of pride, given his disabilities and to see him be able to do this," Diane Artz said.

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