Podium provides precious memories for Special Olympians
One by one, they take the podium and wait. Some are fidgety, others are nervous. A few stand proud, silently waiting for this moment they earned. Others can’t hide their excitement.
Jeffery Warr is smiling, then bends at the knees. He seems to be in disbelief that he’s about to receive his 2013 Special Olympics Colorado Summer Games medal.
He’s at the top of the podium. His medal will be gold for victory in the 100-meter dash.
He turns to his Adams 14 (Thornton) teammate and shakes his hand. Dennis Richards will get the silver. Both are 41 and have been with the team for 17 years, since it was formed.
Finally, Richards’ name is announced and he bends slightly and the medal is placed around his neck. He flips it up and admires it. Then Warr’s name is announced and his gold medal is placed around his neck.
They leave the podium and another five athletes take their place to receive medals.
Athletes, family, coaches and supporters pack the Stocker Stadium barn for medal presentations and, after the medals are presented, the theme song for the Olympics plays briefly.
John Barklage punches the button on the boom box and resets the song.
For each presentation, Barklage’s voice is just as strong and enthusiastic as the first.
He carefully pronounces each name and the team name.
“I don’t want to slight anyone. They all deserve this,” he said.
What keeps his energy up?
“They do,” he said, pointing to the athletes. “Then, after it’s over, I go home and collapse,” he adds with a smile.
Barklage has been involved with Special Olympics for 18 years.
“I wouldn’t have done it for 18 years if I didn’t love it,” the Aurora man said.
Barklage is a member of the Knights of Columbus and the organization has a strong presence from around the state in supporting Special Olympics.
“The Knights of Columbus have always played a big part in Special Olympics,” Barklage said about the organization that has founding principles of charity, unity and fraternity.
With each podium ceremony, athletes celebrate. Some thrust their arms in the air, smile, cheer and accept their medals. Parents and supporters line up to get that special photo of their loved one on the podium.
Out on the track, Grand Junction’s Jack and Janice Brunswick and four of their children are there to support the youngest member of their family, 6-year-old Reannen. She’s in a wheelchair, but she’s still taking part in Special Olympics.
“When they would call her name for her event she was so excited,” Jack said. “And my excitement level was right there with her. You can’t help but get excited with her. It just warms your heart.”
This weekend, it was about supporting Reannen for the Brunswick family.
“We have a family put together by God, we’ve adopted all five of our children, and they are very supportive of their little sister,” Jack said.
For the past four years, Beth Brown has been a volunteer coach for the Adams 14 team, making the one-hour drive from her Highlands Ranch home to practice in Thornton.
“I love everything about it,” she said.
Special Olympics are about stories. Every coach, every volunteer, every family has a story.
Adams 14 coach started the team 17 years ago because she had two special-needs children. She never left.
For Brown, she said that a random encounter with a Special Olympian during a skiing event in Steamboat Springs four years ago got her hooked.
“I just really connected with an athlete and I’ve been doing this ever since,” she said.
Up in the Roaring Fork Valley, Cammi Menager decided to put together a Special Olympics team. That was seven years ago, and she says it’s still inspiring to be part of such a special cause.
“It’s really unifying and it’s really about something bigger than this,” she said.
The Roaring Fork team had Diego Rivera help carry the flag for the Western Region at the opening ceremonies and Justin Jolley helped light the Olympic Flame.
The crowning moment for many of these athletes, like with any athletic competition, is the awards ceremony. Having the medal placed around their necks, to walk around with that medal proudly dangling and bouncing on their chest is unforgettable.
The smiles and joy are evident with nearly every athlete. Like all athletes, the culmination of hard work is rewarded with that medal.
“It’s not about the awards, but it kind of is,” said Sarah Whittington after seeing her niece receive a bronze medal. “To see how happy this makes them means everything.”