Two area residents will soon be on their way to the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi.
In addition to their hard work and conditioning, local businesses have helped make it possible for these two athletes to join more than 7,500 others from over 190 countries who will compete in 24 different individual and team sports at the 2019 games from March 14-21.
Columbia resident Jena Jones has been training and competing with the Special Olympics since 2002. Now in her mid-30s, she’s most proud of landing one gold and three silver medals at the 2018 National Special Olympics in Seattle in July 2018.
After more than two decades, she can still say she loves swimming, though she acknowledges that, sometimes, she has to remind herself it’s about the joy of competition.
“I think the hardest aspect of competing and practicing is when you mess up your stroke, or do the wrong stroke,” she said. “You have to say to yourself that it’s about doing your best and having fun.”
Another local Special Olympics veteran, 28-year-old Charles Gaines from Jessup, will also travel to Abu Dhabi to compete in track and field. He earned a gold medal in the 400-meter run in Seattle.
Gaines works as a courtesy clerk at Safeway, a job he’s held for 17 years.
A growing field
“Special Olympics is offered at no cost to the athletes,” explained Marilyn Miceli, assistant director for Special Olympics Maryland Howard County.. “Costs for training sites, uniforms, and travel have increased, as have our athlete numbers. Each Special Olympics county program must raise their own funds to run the program in their area,”
Special Olympics Howard County recently received a one-time $38,800 grant from CarMax Laurel Toyota. The grant is part of the CarMax’s regional giving program focusing on children’s healthy living.
In addition to their financial support, the associates of CarMax Laurel Toyota volunteer at Special Olympics Howard County’s annual Inspiration Walk as well at various one-day competitions.
“CarMax associates know the importance of being a good neighbor and make it a priority to give back to the communities where we live and work,” said Tom Webb, location general manager of CarMax Laurel Toyota. “The Special Olympics Howard County is a great community partner and we are honored to award them with this grant.”
CarMax is one of many businesses who support the Special Olympics, which relies heavily on such support to provide the funds needed for year-round sports training and competitions for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Special Olympics Howard County offers 20 different sports in addition to a Motor Activities Training Program at Cedar Lane School and a new effort, the Young Athletes Program for children under 8 years of age.
Young Athletes introduces basic sports skills such as running, kicking and throwing through a curriculum available to families, teachers and caregivers.
On April 27, Special Olympics Howard County will hold its annual Inspiration Walk – a tradition observed by many local Special Olympics organizations – at Centennial Park.
The walk raises about 50 percent of Special Olympics Howard County’s annual operating budget and, since the organization is volunteer-driven, these donations directly impact the athletes.
Miceli said the Special Olympics is still looking for sponsors. “We also look for direct donations, in-kind donations of gift cards, raffle prize donations, and fundraiser prizes,” she said.
“The donations can be for general support, for a specific competition or sport, or for our annual Inspiration Walk. In addition, Nearly 25 percent of Special Olympics Howard County’s revenue comes through in-kind services or product donations, including sports equipment and gift certificates, web design and assistance, and facility usage. Businesses are also welcome to provide volunteers for special events and competitions,” said Miceli.
Miceli said she wishes more businesses would bring teams of people to volunteer for the Special Olympics. “By engaging in team building activities, employee morale will go up and people will see their employers as caring members of the community.”