At West Virginia University, we have observed some remarkable acts of kindness and team spirit at the Special Olympics Summer Games, hosted by our institution these past two years.

Once, during a track and field event, with the runners poised at the start line, the gun sounded and the competition began. A few sprinted easily, while others more physically limited, were left behind.

At one point, one of the runners stumbled and fell on the tracks hard surface. The lead runner, who was close to crossing the finish line, turned around and went back to help the fallen contender.

Despite cries from on-lookers to continue toward most certain victory, the young man instead helped the fellow athlete to her feet, grabbed her arm and they ran together toward the finish line.

They may not have won first place, but in my heart, they finished No. 1.

Another time, I watched the joy experienced by a Special Olympian as he, with the assistance of a West Virginia State Trooper, proudly carried the Olympic Torch through throngs of fellow athletes and cheering fans on the main floor of the WVU Coliseum to officially open the games. It was an unforgettable and moving moment, especially when the young man said:”Wow, all of these people are cheering for usright here on the WVU Mountaineers home court.”

These very special Olympiansand others just like themcan teach each of us important lessonslessons about sharing, caring, cooperation, teamwork and compassion.

All of us are born with different capacities and talentseach important. But we all too often get caught up in trying to finish first, forgetting those along the way who may not be so fortunate.

Our experiences with Special Olympians have taught me that true winners are not always as obvious as those who finish first.

Winners, in my estimation, are those who give their all to a task without losing sight of the deeper meaning of sharing and cooperation.

We invite you to meet such winners by participating in the Special Olympic Summer Games being hosted by WVU June 9-11.

Be on hand to watch law enforcement officials and one special athlete run the Olympic torch onto Mountaineer Fieldthe new site for the opening ceremonysignifying the official start of the weekend activities. The parade of nearly 1,000 special needs athletes and coaches from around the state is the largest contingency ever assembled, and they need our support.

Also please join WVU volunteers throughout the weekend to watch these heroes compete in sports ranging from kayaking and swimming to track and field and cycling.

Participate in Olympic Village activities where athletes enjoy less strenuous activities like karaoke, line dancing and bingo.

However you decide to volunteer, I guarantee you will see the true spirit of competition. And you will be changed by the experience. I was.

In extending our bid to host the games for at least one more year, the statewide committee cited WVUs athletic facilities as the finest in the state. But I was most proud when they praised the tremendous spirit of our community and state volunteers.

Come join us again this year, and lets show the state we know what winning is all about.

Call 1-888-988-2269 or log on to our web site atwww.nis.wvu/newsroom/to volunteer, or for more information on the games.

*By David C. Hardesty, Jr.

President, West Virginia University