Participation in Special Olympics increases

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Some 85 athletes came to run, throw and jump at the Penn Hills Special Olympics last week.

“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

With those words, Eunice Kennedy Shriver opened the first Special Olympics games in Chicago in 1968. Today, Special Olympics serves 1.7 million people with intellectual and physical disabilities in more than 200 countries around the world.

Its mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in Olympic-type sports for children and adults with special needs. The competition provides opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of skills and friendship with their families, other athletes and the community.

Katie Holmes, organizer of the Penn Hills games, said the competition marked the closing of the extended-stay, after-school program for autistic and intellectually disabled kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“This is the third year that we have hosted Special Olympics and this year we held it at the high school for the first time,” said Ms. Holmes, an autistic support teacher at Penn Hills for students in grades K-2. “Many of our kids cannot do actual school team sports and this gives them the opportunity to show what they can do on the field.”

She said the number of participants has increased from 60 to 85 in three years.

A dozen family and friends of Anthony Lima, 19, were among the hundreds cheering in the stands. 

“Anthony would never have done this 10 years ago,” said his mother, Denise Lima. “He texted everyone to come out this morning. It is fun for us, the Lima support system, to see how much he has grown. There have been a lot of struggles, but this makes it all worth it.”

Athletes compete by age and ability.

Kathy Guzzo retired this summer after over 30 years in the Penn Hills special education department. On Saturday, she volunteered as an announcer. “The exercise is good, but it is the competition that is important,” Ms. Guzzo noted.

Also volunteering were two dozen members of the Penn Hills High School football team.

This is the third year that 14-year-old Briahna Henderson has competed. This year she won the 50-yard dash. Her mother, Keyonia Germany, said she can see the confidence growing in her daughter.

“She was born at 26 weeks and she weighed less than a pound. She has a variety of issues, but she really looks forward to this. It is a great opportunity.”

Tim Means, freelance writer:

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