Thursday, January 6 2022

Lauren Westbrook jumped for joy on the first place podium.

The 35-year-old Clintonville Special Olympics athlete won a gold medal in the softball throw and couldn’t contain his excitement.

“I think she’s a little excited about it,” said John Esson, regional manager of the south-central for Special Olympics Ohio, as he announced the medal winners on Tuesday night.

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The Columbus Special Olympics team faced off against Gahanna’s team in a track and field competition at Africentric Early College as part of the Special Olympics Ohio Summer Games Reimagined.

Special Olympics Ohio typically hosts more than 3,000 athletes from across the state for a weekend of events at Ohio State University for its Summer Games.

But this year, the organization is hosting a “Reimagined Summer Games” where more than 5,500 athletes compete in more than 80 events in Ohio communities through the end of the month.

The festivities began with a virtual opening ceremony on June 4 and will end with a virtual closing ceremony on Sunday. Competitions have taken place in sports such as bowling, petanque, athletics, volleyball and strongman competitions and continue until this weekend.

“Special Olympics Ohio realized a few months ago that there was no way our traditional Summer Games were going to be in late June, all the planning is going on,” Esson said. “There was no way we were hosting 3,000 athletes (at the same time). ”

Jessie Bickley competes in the 100 meters during a Special Olympics Ohio track and field meet between the Columbus and Gahanna teams at Africentric Early College in Columbus this week.  She is one of 5,500 Special Olympians competing in the redesigned Summer Games, with competitions spread throughout the month at various locations instead of taking place over a weekend at Ohio State University.

The Summer Games were canceled last year due to COVID-19, making this year’s event even more special.

“It gives all of our athletes a chance,” said Esson.

Special Olympics Ohio halted its sporting events in March 2020 due to the virus, but restrictions began to lift in the spring and play has gradually resumed.

Summer Games Reimagined is the first time most athletes have been able to compete since COVID first hit, and it is the first time since the pandemic that Special Olympics Ohio has allowed programs to compete against each other.

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“It’s great to offer the sporting part and the competition because at the end of the day that’s who we all are, but we realized that the socio-emotional component for our athletes is just as important if not more. , that sports program, ”said Esson.

The 19 local Special Olympics programs in central Ohio competed in 30 events over 22 days.

“For all of us, it’s just wonderful to have been able to offer something so close to the games and it’s a substantial experience,” said Esson.

At Tuesday’s track meet, the athletes were all smiles as they competed for medals – and comrade.

Lauren who has Turner Syndrome, which causes short stature, is only 50 inches tall, but that doesn’t stop her.

“She’s small, but she’s powerful,” said her mother, Cindy Westbrook.

Lauren runs three miles every day in her Clintonville neighborhood while her mom rides a bike with her. She has competed in the Special Olympics for 13 years and placed second in the 100-meters and 4×100 relay.in Tuesday’s competition.

“They’re just having a good time so it’s really fun,” said Cindy, 61.

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Preston Ratcliff shows off his first, second and third place medals following a Special Olympics Ohio track competition between the Columbus and Gahanna teams.  He enjoyed the sweet victory of winning the medals as well as the clicking noise they made as he held them all in one hand.

Preston Ratcliff won gold, silver and bronze in Tuesday’s track meet.

20-year-old Columbus The athlete took first place in the 4×100 relay, second in the 100 meters and third in the long jump.

“I enjoyed receiving my medals,” he said. “I like to hold them.”

He especially enjoys slamming his medals and hearing the noise they make.

“He loves events,” said his mother, Amie Stanton. “All the practice, all the hard work he does, he loves to go out and show it. He likes everyone to support him.

Stanton, 45, bought her son bright yellow shoes so she could easily spot him competing from the stands. His favorite part of the Summer Games is watching all the athletes interact and compete.

“Everyone’s been telling them for so many years, ‘You’re different, you’re different, you’re different,” said Stanton, of the Forest Park West neighborhood of Columbus. “Well, that gives them normalcy.

Gahanna coach Akshit Bajpai cheers on Kenyon Rice as he crosses the finish line for the 50-meter walk during an Ohio Special Olympics track meet between teams Columbus and Gahanna.  The reimagined Summer Games were the first time many Special Olympics athletes were able to compete since the start of the COVID pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Gahanna’s athlete Kenyon Rice won gold in the 50-meter walk and third place in the softball throw.

The whole crowd erupted when the 13-year-old broke the ribbon at the end of the 50-meter walk.

“The smallest accomplishments mean a lot,” said his mother Michelle Jenkins, 44. “I think the best thing is to see them, especially when they get their awards and they’re so proud.”

The 44-year-old joked that she had to buy a ghost box to display all of her gear as she watched him receive his medals.

As much as he enjoys competition, Kenyon was just excited to see his friends at the track and field competition.

“It was so funny he has balance issues so when we got here he was trying to get out of the car and we were like ‘Slow down you are going to fall’,” she said.

While athletes and families are happy to see the Summer Games reinvented, it’s not quite the same as the Summer Games at Ohio State.

“It’s very small,” Cindy said. “At Ohio State, they really take over the whole campus.”

Stanton normally drops Preston off at OSU for the weekend with around 300 cookies to clear out.among athletes and others.

“(Preston) loves being in the dorms,” she said. “It makes him feel like ‘hey, I’m in college.”

The hope is that the Ohio State Summer Games will resume next year, but athletes and families are happy to compete again this summer.

“Athletes are always at their best,” Jenkins said. “It feels good to be back.”

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@megankhenry


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