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Rain no problem for these special athletes

At left, Christian Loss, 14, of Castle Heights Middle School, competes in the motorized wheelchair slalom. At right, Bre'Toria Howard, 10, of Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School, competes in the softball throw.
At left, Christian Loss, 14, of Castle Heights Middle School, competes in the motorized wheelchair slalom. At right, Bre'Toria Howard, 10, of Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School, competes in the softball throw.

Surely, it was too wet Friday for the Special Olympics. Wheelchair races? No way, right? Kids in walkers throwing softballs? Too cold, too nasty, certainly?

Weather cannot stop the heart.

Almost 1,000 area kids and adults came together Friday at Rock Hill's Cherry Park for the Area 11 games, a spring staple since 1970. Wet and cold could not stop Lucas Love from York Road Elementary School, with the red hair and the upraised arms and the smile that does not cease, from winning a medal in the 100-yard dash. Or his classmates Zeke Milligan, Joseph Getty or Patrick Vang.

They ran, some even ran fast. And when the medals were given out, gold for first, silver for second and bronze for third, with white ribbons for fourth and fifth, these kids never mentioned, not once, who won.

Because they all won.

This York Road group had been practicing for weeks. Running outside at the school. Making sure each ran all the way to the finish line.

And that is exactly what happened Friday. Everybody finished. If it took a few seconds, or a lot of seconds, all finished.

And when racers reached the finish, so many volunteers, hundreds, armies of grace they were, waited to give high fives and hugs. Citi Financial from Fort Mill alone sent 60 people. All gave up a day to cheer on strangers through wet grass, through mud, to put medals around necks, to give hugs.

And after the races, these kids just jumped around in fun and mugged for cameras and showed off medals and ribbons and carried on.

When's the last time at a school game, or any athletic event, the whole group of participants who did their best, gave all they had, celebrated just being able to run?

For so many of these people who live so many days of their lives in special classrooms or group homes, without any spotlight, this was their day. There was no grumbling about the weather. The only sounds were laughter and cheers.

When 10-year-old Riccardo Coleman from Gold Hill Elementary School in Fort Mill won, the cheer came from Wes Crow, a junior at Fort Mill High School. They just met Friday morning. All the Fort Mill High students studying early childhood development got buddied up with a kid.

Nobody in that park cheered louder than Wes Crow when Riccardo Coleman won that race.

"My buddy," said Riccardo Coleman of Wes Crow.

They walked off together, two buddies. Coleman had the gold medal around his neck. Crow's smile showed he now owned something shiny and golden, too.

There were cheers at the softball throw where Olivia Hubbard of Ebinport Elementary School won a medal. The cheers came from everybody around. Not just Ebinport.

Cheers for the throws of Clover's Zackary Fredell, who threw the ball so far and so long there was no doubt he won gold. But cheers just as loud for a girl in a walker whose ball went maybe a few feet.

Then in the gray gloom, tears. A young kid from Lancaster named Tyriek Dye wasn't happy with his softball throw. He stood off to the side, near the path to get away. And quick as a cat, a lady named Mikki Graffam, a volunteer who took the day off, appeared and said the magic words: "You did great!"

And that little boy believed her. I know because he smiled. He believed her because this stranger, this lady with the smile and the soft hand on his shoulder, meant he did great.

Because he did do great.

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