“Oh, yeah, she’s been bouncing all week,” said Mercedes’ brother Fernando. “This is a big deal for her; it’s a big deal for us, too.”
Mercedes was one of hundreds of students from East County’s elementary, middle and high schools who participated in the track and field Special Olympics competition on May 14 at Liberty High School in Brentwood.
The annual events – traditionally held three times a year at schools throughout the county – are an opportunity for students, parents and teachers to come together in a celebration of friendship, achievement and hope.
The students arrived in organized groups and casual clusters. They came with their families and teachers and friends. They dressed in bright reds, yellows and orange, some carrying papier-mâché Olympic torches, others wearing simple lanyards and nametags.
But whether the athletes made their way around the track in wheelchairs, on foot or with the support of aides, each personified the true spirit of the Olympics and the triumph of the human spirit.
“These Olympics are to mirror the hard work and dedication that our students provide throughout the year, including sportsmanship, physical fitness and developmental skills,” said Diane Misasi of the Contra Costa County Office of Education. “It’s for the community, the students and staff. It’s a wonderfully successful event.”
This year’s competition – as does each Special Olympics event – began with the Parade of Athletes followed by the singing of the National Anthem by an attending athlete, and finally the arrival of the Olympic torch. Students participated in individual and relay team races.
For Mercedes, who has Down Syndrome, the outing was an opportunity to visit, celebrate and participate. But it was also an opportunity to level the playing field. “What we love about this for Mercedes, and all the kids, is that the Special Olympics is a fair opportunity for everyone to participate,” said Lizardo. “This is her chance to go out and compete and have some fun.”
“These kids are the best kids in the world; the best students in the world,” agreed Joanne Lindevald, a teacher’s aide at Liberty High School. “And so are the families. Everyone gets involved, and everyone has a great time.”
The Contra Costa County Special Olympics, a local branch of the national organization founded in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, organizes sporting events throughout the county on regional and district levels.
For more information on the Special Olympics and upcoming events, call the Northern California office at 925-944-8801 or visit www.sonc.org.