A competition where everyone is a winner

Track: 33rd annual Carroll County Special Olympics event gives disabled athletes a chance to aim for the gold.

April 29, 2004|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Richard Erb oozed confidence after finishing the 100-meter dash yesterday at the Carroll County Special Olympics Spring Track and Field Meet at Westminster High School.

Hoping for a gold medal while waiting for the results of his first race, the Runnymede Elementary School fourth-grader said, "I'll probably beat everybody in the 50-meter."

In addition to the 50-meter race, he had a softball throw event. But he said running was his favorite event.

Richard, 9, was one of 217 Special Olympics athletes competing such events as races, softball throws, shot-put, standing and running long jumps, and relays.

Athletes ranged from 8 to 60 years old, though most were students from public schools or programs such as the Therapeutic Recreation Council.

"They're supposed to have eight weeks' preparation," said Marsha Barger, area director for Carroll County Special Olympics. "The older adults are in the [Special Olympics] program, and I let them know when the practices are."

Scott Swartz, an event director from Verizon, which sponsors the meet, said six athletes usually compete against one another, and they are grouped by ability. The top three finishers win medals, and ribbons are awarded for fourth to sixth places. Athletes can participate in as many as three events, Barger said.

The athletes are paired with a student from the local high school who gets them to the events and stays with them throughout the day. The stands and grassy areas were filled with family spectators for the 33rd annual event.

Chris Anderson, 18, from Liberty High School, earned gold in the long jump with a distance of 2.43 meters. That was the best he had done all day, he said. His other events included the softball throw and the 100-meter dash.

Westminster resident Randy Benzel, 43, who has been in the Special Olympics program since he was 9, took second place in the standing long jump.

Stephanie Carpegna, 20, of Hampstead, earned fourth place in the 200-meter run.

"The long jump is my favorite," she said.

Carpegna, like Anderson and Richard, who was competing in his second Special Olympics, has been in the program since she was 8.

The athletes stood proudly as Maryland State Police and Westminster officers presented them with medals and ribbons at the end of each event. "Some of the athletes are going on to the state summer games June 4 to 6 at the University of Maryland, College Park," Barger said.

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