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Showcase nears for Special Olympics

June 07, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - About 20 Washington County athletes will compete on land and in water this weekend at Special Olympics Maryland's Summer Games in Towson, Md.

Special Olympics sports festivals are held throughout the country and world for people with mental disabilities.

Washington County has about 300 Special Olympics athletes who compete throughout the year, said Marva Davis of Hagerstown, the county's Special Olympics director.

Local athletes going to Towson University will compete in pool and track and field-type events.

Jason Whitmore, 33, will swim. Debbie Whitmore of Rohrersville said her son, Jason, who is deaf and autistic, swims in the freestyle, backstroke and relay.

"It's always good for him because he can do something good," she said. "He can win ribbons. He likes to show them off."

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Davis said Special Olympics training in floor hockey, volleyball, bocce and many other sports goes on year-round in Washington County. This year's state competitions have been held for most of those sports.

At last weekend's equestrian competition in Prince George's County, Md., Sarah Roney won gold medals in equitation, a test of riding form and control, and working trails, a type of obstacle course, said her mother, Carolyn Roney of Hagerstown.

She said Sarah, 32, has won gold medals, blue ribbons and red ribbons before. This year, "she wanted, in the worst way, a pink ribbon," because she liked the color, her mother said.

Carolyn Roney said she told Sarah that the gold medals could be adapted: "I'll buy you a roll of pink ribbon and we'll decorate."

Davis said the Special Olympians she knows want to win. "There's nothing like having the gold medal around their neck," she said.

At the same time, athletic events are a showcase - a progression from the era of hiding away people with mental disabilities, she said.

"This was a way to get them exposed and to show what they can do," Davis said.

Sarah Roney enjoys the fanfare, her mother said.

"People are clapping and taking her picture," Carolyn Roney said. "She's the center of attention. It does something for her self-esteem."

Special Olympics' minimum age is 8 years old, but there is no upper limit. Some athletes are in their 50s or 60s, said Col. Doug Holland, chief of the Hyattsville (Md.) Police Department and chairman of Special Olympics' Law Enforcement Torch Run.

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