Special creed: 'I can do it'

June 20, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Brian Cook wanted off his Shetland pony, but his mother said no. She knew her 16-year-old son had slept only three hours Friday night and that the temperature was almost 100 degrees.

But this was the Olympics; quitting was not an option.

Barbara Cook of Mount Airy stood outside the show ring and grumbled as her son dropped the reins. He looked pleadingly at her as he rode past and said he needed to use a bathroom. She shot his picture.

The young man, who was born with deformed hands and arms half the normal size, stayed in the saddle. The specially made reins that loop over his thumbs slipped off again and again. The black helmet stuffed with foam and newspapers to fit his small head made sweat run down his face.

He finished the competition. He didn't win, but it didn't matter.

The athletes who finished in last place received just as much attention as the gold-medal winners yesterday at the 24th annual Maryland Special Olympics Summer Games at Towson State University.

About 1,300 mentally retarded adults and children from around the state competed in the blazing sun. They came to the event after qualifying at local competitions this spring.

Yesterday, they played softball and volleyball, ran races, swam laps, lifted weights and rode horses.

They also drank a lot of water -- and sometimes poured it over their heads -- and sat in the shade when they could. They waved to their families and friends sitting in the stands and hugged volunteers who helped keep the competition on schedule.

They sweated it out, as do all true competitors. The Special Olympics goal is "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

"What's the most important thing?" Yvonne Proch of Columbia asked her 18-year-old son Tim.

"I can do it," he answered. A bronze medal hung around his neck -- the prize for finishing third in his round of the 100-meter run.

He went off to sit with his teammates and congratulate them on their races. Throughout Minnegan Stadium, athletes slapped each other on the backs, flashed the thumbs-up sign and offered each other kind words. Some even clapped for themselves as they received their awards.

"There's such a spirit of comradeship," Mrs. Proch said. "The comradeship extends from the coaches to the athletes participating, and they all care about each other."

Fred Boddie III, a special education teacher at Cedar Lane School in Columbia, helped coach the Howard County team. His 17 athletes trained for an hour after school once a week for nine weeks for the competition.

"They're very intense," he said. "They're so proud. They're so uplifted by the whole event."

Rich Gesue, a Baltimore County resident and Texas Instruments employee who has volunteered at the event for the past six years, announced the winners of the track and field events. He said he was impressed by the way they shook hands with each other after receiving their medals.

"That's sportsmanship. That's something you don't see even with people who are not mentally retarded," he said.

Randy Tollinger, 32, of Elkton simply had a good time. As he sat high in the saddle on a horse named Charade, he laughed.

Suzette Jackson of Port Deposit, a volunteer with the Freedom ** Hills Therapeutic Riding 4-H Program, said riding has helped him gain confidence.

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