Special Olympian finds thrills in sport rather than in medals

April 29, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The two gold medals dangling from ribbons around Nicole Hurley's neck were the obvious rewards of competing in the Carroll County Special Olympics yesterday at Westminster High School.

But ask the 15-year-old Mount Airy Middle School student, who goes by the nickname "Niki," what she likes best about the program and she doesn't mention the medals.

"I like the long jump; I like to jump in the sand. I like running because you get to run far," she said. "I like the place, the competition. And the 'huggers.' "

"And the pizza," added her mother, Sue Hurley of Berrett. They were just about to get a slice at the Westminster Optimist Club stand.

"Huggers" is the once-official name for the volunteers assigned to each Special Olympian. Now called FANs, short for Friends And Neigbors, the volunteers get the athletes to their appointed matches on time and make sure they get lunch and lots of encouragement.

Niki had two huggers, fellow students from Mount Airy Middle.

"This is my hugger," said athlete Chuck Toth, 13, of Westminster West Middle School, as he introduced bus driver Barbara Mills of Westminster. Ms. Mills first met Chuck when he was on her bus several years ago.

"He used to be one of my kids," she said as she pulled him close in an affectionate squeeze, living up to her designation.

Chuck's parents, Wayne and Kathy Toth of Finksburg, and grandmother, Betty Toth of Smallwood, were snapping pictures of him as he received first- and second-place medals for the running and long jump competitions.

However, he will have to choose between those events and the equestrian competition at the state Special Olympics at Towson State University in June.

"He usually goes for the equestrian -- he loves to ride," Mrs. Toth said.

He rides locally with the county's 4-H equestrian club.

Chuck still has one more year to go at West Middle.

Niki will attend South Carroll High School next year.

Her mother is concerned that Niki won't be able to compete in the Special Olympics after this year, because Carroll County high schools don't have coaching programs for it. However, some of the people who could change that were talking about it at the games yesterday.

Peter B. McDowell, the county's director of secondary education, and James Bullock, coordinator of motor development, were discussing ways to start Special Olympics programs in the high schools.

Now, if high school students want to compete, they must go on Saturdays to coaching sessions with the county's Therapeutic Recreation Council, which also trains adults for the Special Olympics.

"It's easier when you have access to the kids in school," Mr. Bullock said. At the middle schools, the students train during physical education classes or motor development sessions.

Mr. Bullock said until now, the high school adaptive physical education teachers have not had as much experience in training students for the Special Olympics as have the middle and elementary school teachers.

"That's a need, to get the adaptive PE [physical education] teachers in the high schools trained," he said.

Now that more special education students are going to their home high schools instead of to the Carroll County Education Center, it will make more sense to start programs in those schools, he said.

Yesterday, there were 23 adult and 121 student athletes from the education center; North Carroll, Westminster West and Mount Airy middle schools; and Carrolltowne, Robert Moton, Elmer Wolfe and Hampstead elementary schools.

Including the FANs, volunteers numbered about 300, said Edward Fischer of Westminster, director of the Carroll County Special Olympics and a planner at Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland, where local employees support the event.

Several other businesses and community groups also donated money and goods, he said.

Competitions included softball-throwing, track, walking, a 50-meter wheelchair -- and shot put.

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