Jeff Brown cannot run. The 43-year-old has never run or even walked.
Still, on Monday the Rock Hill man practiced an obstacle course, determined and fierce in his resolve, with plans to compete from his wheelchair in the Special Olympics.
On Friday, Brown, with a rare condition since birth that fused his joints, vowed to try his best and seek a gold medal.
He expects to win, too.
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“The slalom, and the obstacle course, both events,” said Brown. “I aim to get a medal, too. The competition better be ready.”
Brown is among more than 1,000 athletes with special needs from York, Chester and Lancaster counties who will compete in the annual Area 11 Special Olympics Spring Games at Rock Hill’s Cherry Park.
The event needs hundreds of volunteers to help the athletes, some of whom require one-on-one help during the games. Organizers say there is still a need for more volunteers with the games just days away.
“We always have a great turnout from this community, but we can always use more volunteers,” said Garnet McKeown, supervisor of the Boyd Hill Recreation Center.
Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department employees have worked for almost a year to raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to put on such a huge event – some people even jumped into a frigid Lake Wylie this winter to raise money.
The only way Special Olympics can put on its biggest show of the year is with help from volunteers and donations.
Dozens of schools send teams of participants for all kinds of events. There are softball throws and sprints and wheelchair races. There are jumps.
Some events are measured in inches. Some times are measured in minutes. It does not matter one bit.
There are no losers at the Special Olympics.
So, for weeks at Rock Hill’s Adult Enrichment Center, many of the young adults – and a few older ones – who make up the High-Five Club have practiced three times a week to get ready for the one day of the year where no star shines brighter. Monday was more practice for the athletes.
“Long jump – watch this,” said Special Olympian Cameron Neely.
Neely jumped a few feet, and all the others from the center applauded. They gave high fives. They cheered. They smiled.
Although there are scores and distances kept at Friday’s games, nobody remembers the distance. There are no performance-enhancing drugs, no scandals or sneaky cheating. No coaches throwing tantrums and blaming officials while collecting a million-dollar paycheck.
Just people born with disabilities, or special needs, doing the best any of them can do.
“We want all our athletes to participate, to try, to be a part of competing,” said Lydia Wylie, program director at the Adult Enrichment Center.
Kevin Blanchard, co-director at the center, said Special Olympians prove that all people can achieve greatness.
“These athletes are so excited; they try so hard,” Blanchard said.
That is what Special Olympics is all about – trying.
On Monday, the High-Five Club practiced out in the sun. They ran and threw and did not want to stop.
There was Ravin Hall running and throwing and smiling and trying her best. Patrick Murnane, with a right shoulder injured, used his left hand to throw. It was not far. Everybody still cheered.
Aziza Hammond, in the Special Olympics again after so many years in a row, said she will win in the run and throw. Iesha Beckham, Steve Margencill and Brandon Ferguson – all of them in that High-Five Club – practiced and gave high fives.
“I will run fast,” said Ferguson. “As fast as I can.”
Jeff Brown – smiling, cheering, trying – urged on the other athletes with his voice and his heart. He said competition is just as important for these athletes as any big shot in professional sports or college.
Plus, Special Olympians never quit.
“Look out on Friday,” Brown said. “I’m in the Olympics. We all are.”