Going for the Gold at the 2011 Summer Olympics 

June 3, 2011

DCPS athletes line up for the 400 meter dash.
DCPS athletes were awarded medals after their events.
Running to win the gold at the 2011 Summer Games.

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As soon as the race official blew his whistle, the runners in the 400-meter dash were off, arms pumping and legs flying as they raced each other around the track.

As one runner rounded the last corner, reaching the final 100 meters to the finish line, he tripped and fell, toppling to the ground. Two runners he was racing against flew past him – and then doubled back to help him stand up and walk off the track.

All three of the runners lost, but the crowd cheered wildly for them for displaying such sportsmanship, one of the key themes taught at the Special Olympics DC.

“That’s the atmosphere that I really like about Special Olympics,” said Adrienne Dawson, Special Olympics coordinator at Mamie D. Lee School. “They are into sportsmanship, and although we are competing, we are still here to help one another.”

More than 600 DCPS athletes participated in the DC Special Olympics this year, competing in track and field events, soccer, volleyball and bocce one the athletic fields at the Catholic University of America, That makes it one of the largest Special Olympics games in the country, according to Tom Kling, senior director of programs and sports at Special Olympics DC.

“Without DCPS we wouldn’t have a program. What we do in DC Special Olympics is different than any other chapter in the country,” said Tom Kling.

Although there are many outstanding DCPS athletes who participate in the Special Olympics, Mr. Kling said he makes sure that all student athletes can participate. The only way an athlete cannot participate in an event is if that athlete does not attend the qualifying races.

As a result, every student is made to feel like a star athlete, cheered on by classmates and teachers. The athletes stand on a podium to receive a gold, silver or bronze medal while the familiar Olympics theme song plays in the background.

Ms. Karen Bell, a fourth through sixth grade special education teacher at Emery Education Campus, said that it didn’t matter whether the students brought home the gold – they still were treated like accomplished athletes.

“What I enjoy most about Special Olympics DC is that they make the athletes feel successful, and they do a great job of exposing our children to sports that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to,” said Ms. Bell.

That sentiment held true for the student athlete who fell. He attends Mamie D. Lee and was one of the students that Ms. Dawson helped coach.

She said the student was not hurt, and she was able to use his experience as a lesson for him and the other students.

“Sometimes things happen to us,” said Ms. Dawson, “But I told him he did an excellent job of getting back up. Sometimes you need help to move on and keep on going, and that’s okay.”

At the end of the three-day summer games, many of the student athletes went home with medals. All went home with a better understanding of what it means to commit to an activity and to be part of a team.

And it won’t be long before September comes and students start practicing again.

“I had one student ask me in the hallway this morning as we were walking in, ‘Are we going to do it next year?’ It hasn’t even been 24 hours, and they are already preparing for next year,” said Adrienne Dawson, Special Olympics coordinator at Mamie D. Lee School.

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