Make no mistake about it: The West Virginia Special Olympics Summer Games have all the competitiveness you will find in any sport.
But for the nearly 1,000 athletes participating June 9-11 at West Virginia University, the Summer Games are about more than competing in events and taking home medals and ribbons. They are also about friendships that last a lifetime.
“Its fun because I get to see my friends,”said Simon Feather, a 17-year-old Morgantown athlete who will be participating in kayaking races at the Star City boat dock.
Simon, son of Nancy Abrams of Morgantown and Wilford Feather of Kingwood, is competing in the Summer Games for the first time. He has participated in track and field on the local level for 10 years and won gold medals in basketball at the state Winter Games in Elkins. He volunteered with his mother at last years Summer Games.
This is the first year kayaking has been offered as a Special Olympics event. Simon, one of about 25 people competing in the event, has been practicing in the pool at WVUs Elizabeth Moore Hall and in the Monongahela River near downtown Morgantown. His coaches are Laura Drew and Karen Jones.
“Its hard, but its fun,”he said.
Simon has Fragile X Syndrome, the most commonly inherited form of mental retardation, said his mother, manager of publications at WVU Health Sciences Center. He attends Morgantown High School and the Monongalia County Vocational Center. He also works with local senior citizens through Bridges, a United Way agency that trains people with disabilities.
Another athlete who will be competing in this years games is Elizabeth Giesey, a 44-year-old Special Olympics veteran from Institute, Kanawha County.
Giesey will participate in the swimming competition, an event in which she has established herself as a competitor. She won a third-place medal in the backstroke event and a sixth-place ribbon in free-style competition at the 1983 World Games in Baton Rouge, La.
She has participated in West Virginia Special Olympics since its start in 1968 and was named West Virginia Special Olympic Athlete of the Year in 1986. She has competed in every event during her career, winning about 90 state medals and 125 local medals. She has also made a lot of friends over the years.
“She likes the competition, but I think she enjoys the companionship just as much,”said her mother, Una Giesey of Dunbar.
Gieseys family is active in Special Olympics as well. Her sister, Cindy Cummings, is her swimming coach. Her mother is the former director of Kanawha County Special Olympics, and her father, Earle, has been a volunteer for years. The Giesey family was named West Virginia Special Olympic Family of the Year in 1985.
Giesey resides at Shiny Hills Apartments, a mental health facility at Institute. She works at McDonalds two days a week and attends Creative Expressions, a part of Shiny Hills, three days a week.
Bill Price, 34, of Martinsburg is another athlete who will be coming to Morgantown for the Summer Games.
Price, who will participate in the bocce competition, is the Berkeley County Special Olympic Athlete of the Year for 1999-2000.
He has participated in Special Olympics since the first games were held in Berkeley County almost 30 years ago. He competes in track and field on the local level. Like Giesey, he has won hundreds of medals and ribbons and made numerous friends.
“He likes being part of the team,”said his mother, Doris Newbraugh.”He so much wants to be one of the guys.”
When he is not participating in Special Olympics, Price works at the Eastern Panhandle Training Center, a sheltered workshop for handicapped people.
WVU is hosting the Summer Games for the third straight year. To volunteer, call the toll_free hotline at 1-888-988-2269 or download the form fromhttp://www.nis.wvu.edu/newsroom/soforms.htm.