Special Olympians hold nothing back
When it happened before, not very far into Daylon McCaskill’s 50-yard dash, the tumble was tremendous enough to leave a scar on the side of his face. His palms were hamburger, his knees a bloody mess, but he scrambled up and raced for the finish line, ending with a time just under eight seconds.
That was several years ago. Tuesday morning, 17-year-old Daylon, a student at Grand Junction High School, once again stood on the starting line of a 50 dash. When the whistle blew, he was off like a bullet, a streak of lightning. Several yards from the finish line, he stumbled and pitched forward, rolling once in an awful tangle.
And then he was back up and across the finish line. He won the race.
As his teachers anxiously made sure he wasn’t hurt — he wasn’t — friends, teammates and the crowd in the bleachers at Stocker Stadium cheered. Daylon, a natural athlete, offered a small smile. He still had the 100 dash to think about.
“These are the finest athletes in the world,” said Mike Ruspil, a School District 51 adaptive physical education teacher who oversaw the Special Olympics Colorado/Mesa County Valley School District 51 Track and Field Meet on Tuesday at Stocker Stadium. “They’ll never make a fortune, but they’ll win your heart.”
The 214 Special Olympians competed in foot races, softball and tennis ball throws, the standing long jump, wheelchair races and, new to the event this year, a young athletes program for children younger than 8. Athletes from District 51 elementary, middle and high schools practiced several weeks for the event, whether they were running around the school or working on their concentration.
“I think we just tried to work on his focus,” said Geno Shawler, whose son, Jack, 12, a Fruita Middle School student, was resting on the grass nearby. Jack already had competed in the softball throw and was preparing for his standing long jump by enjoying a few Gummi Worms and a handful of Goldfish.
Jack paused at the edge of the sand pit for his jump. The crowd around the pit cheered him on: “All right, Jack! You can do it!” He finally hopped like he was jumping into a swimming pool, an excellent try that was just long enough.
Jack was modest about accepting the praise that followed, but in the nearby tennis ball throwing area, Dakota Griffith, 9, beamed and raised his arms in a victory V after completing the event. He’d thrown the ball really far, thus earning a little celebration.
“We’ve been practicing in P.E.,” said Candi Diaz, his teacher at Thunder Mountain Elementary School. His entire fourth-grade class attended the track meet, “and I think everyone’s really enjoying having their peers here to cheer them on,” Diaz said.
Also important was the family support. After competing in the tennis ball throw, Chloe Moore, 9, a Fruitvale Elementary School student, made a beeline for her mother, Bobbie.
“Hi, baby!” Bobbie said, clutching Chloe in a tight hug. “That was so great!”
Chloe had been talking about the track meet for weeks, Bobbie said, and was “very excited. She just loves school, and she loves participating in things like this. She has three older sisters, so they helped her practice throwing.”
About 140 volunteers helped run the track meet Tuesday, Ruspil said, and about 400 elementary, middle and high school students attended the meet to support their classmates.
“It’s just incredible to see,” Ruspil said. “You can see all the effort it takes for our athletes to succeed, and they love doing it.”