Winning style, smiles

Athletes: As Carroll holds its 30th Special Olympics, young competitors bask in the results of weeks of training and the thrill of sport.

April 26, 2001|By Jamie Manfuso | Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

Long jumper Ann Sturgeon toed the line, crouched low, and lunged into the sandpit. She landed squarely, pumped her fists in the air like an Olympic gymnast, and gave high-fives and hugs to everyone within reach.

Sturgeon's jump of 1.26 meters won a gold medal in her group at Carroll's annual Special Olympics, held yesterday at Westminster High School. She won two more golds, in the 100-meter dash and the softball throw. The victories left her feeling "really pumped."

The 21-year-old's reaction summed up the feeling of athletes and volunteers yesterday. About 200 athletes of all ages - the biggest turnout ever in Carroll - participated in about a dozen events, ranging from the shot put and standing long jump to the 4-by-100-meter relay race.

Gold medal winners such as Sturgeon are eligible to compete in the Maryland Special Olympics from June 8 to 10 at University of Maryland, College Park.

Yesterday's competition was the culmination of weeks, sometimes months, of training.

The athletes are required to train a minimum of eight weeks to participate in the games. Some train much longer.

All the preparation requires the support of family, classmates and friends.

"All the coaches, they're the secret heroes of this event," said Ann's father, Hank Sturgeon. The family lives outside Westminster.

Every Saturday morning for the past two months, volunteers have helped about 25 Westminster-area athletes train for events at Carroll Springs School in Westminster.

In all, 240 Carroll students served as buddies for the athletes during the competition, offering hugs, high-fives and encouragement.

Among them, a fifth-grade class from Mechanicsville Elementary School showed up yesterday, waving signs and posters in support of Chris Vogelberger, a classmate with Down syndrome.

Nora Murray, a Liberty High health teacher, had her third-period students train the school's nine special-needs kids the past two weeks. They sometimes had to play creative games to get the athletes to improve, she said.

Bruce Anderson, father of 15-year-old competitor Chris, said the competition and camaraderie has helped develop his son's self-esteem and independence.

It used to take convincing to get Chris, who has Down syndrome, out of their Eldersburg home. But today he plays basketball and other sports outside.

Aside from the training he gets at school, Chris runs around the perimeter of the house two or three times a week. He also walks about a mile a day on a treadmill, his father said.

Colin Jones, a South Carroll High School junior, worked as Chris' fan, a buddy for the day of the competition. Colin said the competition was markedly different from high-pressure high school sports.

"The focus here just isn't on winning," said Colin, 17, a junior on the varsity basketball and track teams. "It's on finishing."

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