By Ms. Alexandra Shea (IMCOM)May 16, 2019
Crouched down near the lip of Knight Pool, Karen Doudoukjian shouts words of encouragement as her son John swims the breast stroke against six others. The palm of her left hand is inked in permanent marker showing her son's heat cycles. She is a proud swim-mom to two Special Olympic athletes.
"We are here at Fort Jackson for the state games," Doudoukjian said. "All of these athletes are my heroes."
Like Doudoukjian, hundreds of families, coaches and athletes from across the state descended on Fort Jackson to compete and cheer on athletes during the 2019 South Carolina Summer Special Olympics May 10 - 12. This is the 52nd year the installation has hosted the games.
While Special Olympics provides year-round athletic training and competition in 27 Olympic-style sports, the seven featured on-post included bocce, bowling, gymnastics, powerlifting, swimming, softball and track and field.
Special Olympians range in age from eight-years and up, and are people with intellectual disabilities, cognitive delays or significant learning vocational problems.
"We can do a lot of things other people do, it just takes us a little longer," Doudoukjian said. "You can't imagine all the little things they have to overcome to do these big things; every day is a miracle here."
Each Special Olympian, much like their Olympic Games counterpart, can compete in local and state competitions in hopes of winning their event. These athletes then have an opportunity to move to the national, international and world level games to compete for medals and titles.
"I'm going to win 100 percent," said Alan Stephens, Special Olympics powerlifting competitor.
While Stephens has been a competitor in the games for several years, this year is his first powerlifting. Stephens said he can lift roughly 99 pounds and that the sport brings him joy.
"He's been wanting to powerlift for a long time," said Rex Stephens, Alan Stephens' father. "I'm extremely proud of him. He does things that amazes all the time."
While the summer games sees athletes push their physical limits as much as possible and fosters competition, the games also offer the competitors an opportunity to make new friends and network with fellow athletes and families. Athletes often give hugs and fist bumps to fellow competitors even if they have just met.
According to the Special Olympics website, the games are able to "unleash the power of the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world."
Throughout the day, teams and individuals were awarded medals for winning their event categories. The closing ceremony, held at the Solomon Center, included a formal ceremony followed by an evening of dancing for the athletes.
"Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt," Special Olympics athlete oath.