Special Olympics athletes get creative to beat the heat

By Angie Hilsman | May 20, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Dartmouth Middle seventh grader Jacqueline Thibodeau competes in javelin.

Lelah Faria cheered from the stands with her three-year-old granddaughter Hadley Pragana. Neither of the two had previously attended the Special Olympics School Day Games.

Faria's niece, 35-year-old Heather Young, walked across the Dartmouth High gymnasium. Young has 9p Deletion Syndrome, which prevents her from participating in competitive high school events. But on May 19, she was scheduled to compete in the softball throw and 25-meter dash.

"I thought it would be a wonderful experience, not only for myself but for my granddaughter, to see how her cousin has to work a lot harder to do something. [Pragana] should have tolerance and patience," said Faria.

But as Young headed outdoors for the games, she was immediately struck by the nearly 90-degree heat. The Dartmouth High grad pulled out the sunscreen, and lathered up.

Young was one of 325 athletes — who had gathered from Dartmouth, Westport, New Bedford, Fall River, Somerset, and Lakeville schools — competing in the event. The day's activities included javelin, shot-put, long jump, and hurdles.

Under the protection of a hat and sunglasses, Young started to think about the games.

"I'm nervous for this. Will you run with me?" she asked Dartmouth High senior Peter Lenz.

"I'll run with you the whole time," Lenz reassured her.

Lenz was one of 50 student volunteers — clad in bright pink shirts — helping to run the event, said Dartmouth special education teacher and games organizer John Breault. The team had started planning the games in February, but all the attention that went into making t-shirts, securing donations, and enrolling student athletes was worth the work, said Breault.

"This is the best day of the year for many of the athletes. It's their day to be put in the limelight," he said.

While that was true for Dartmouth Middle eighth grader Jonathon Correia, the weather was also on his mind.

"[My favorite part of the day is] hanging out with your friends and enjoying," he said. "I don't have no sunblock. I'll be fine."

Seventh grader Jacqueline Thibodeau echoed his sentiments.

"The sun's not on our side today, huh?" she asked. But the day outdoors was still a chance for Thibodeau to try something new.

"It wasn't until very recently that I finally learned how to sprint. I just picked it up just watching other people do it," she said.

Nearby, seventh grader Griffin Barrett had prepared for the heat. Classmates took turns standing before the pocket-sized fan he had brought.

"It's unbearably hot. Luckily, Griffin has a sprayer fan to cool me off," said sixth grader Adam Souza.

"It's terrible, record-high temperatures. I feel like I'm going to melt in the next five minutes," said Barrett.

Some students, however, found distractions from the heat. Dartmouth High twelfth grader Roland Abiramia started a shot-put competition with volunteer Ben Paine.

"I just wanted Ben to show his anchor arms," laughed Abiramia, who prefers javelin.

Paine — who has volunteered with special needs kids since elementary school — enjoyed participating.

"We're all just like a group of friends, and it's really fun," he said.

Tenth grader Donovan Roukoz kept his eye on the end goal to ignore the heat.

"My favorite part about the Special Olympics is the pizza... pepperoni pizza," he said after excelling in javelin.

Crowds had gathered to cheer on the athletes, but outdoors, they huddled under trees, umbrellas, and tents on the track's outskirts to avoid the sun.

Inside the school's gym, elementary students competed in softball throws, an obstacle course, sprints, and parachute games.

"We all get to work together as a team," said Quinn Elementary student Kylie Gagne.

Her peer Ben Quinn smiled. "It's a good day. It's very nice and sunny here," he said.

Adaptive physical education Teacher Mike Cappello said the event grows every year, but the fun comes from working with the kids.

"I work with a lot of them in the school, and to see them compete against other schools is just a lot of fun," said Cappello.

Last year, 250 athletes participated in the Special Olympic games.

Karina Almeida, Abigail Aguiar, and Jordan McNeil direct visitors at the high school. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Lelah Faria and Hadley Pragana cheer on the athletes at the event's opening ceremony. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth High alumnus Shawn Lvesque, 33, carries the torch in to start the Special Olympics games. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth High alumna Heather Young and DHS senior Peter Lenz head for the fields. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth Middle eighth grader Jonathan Correia competes in javelin. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth Middle seventh grader Jacqueline Thibodeau competes in javelin. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Somerset Berkley's Caleb Smith, 15, competes in the 25-meter hurdles. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Griffin Barrett, 13, sprays down Adam Souza, 12, with water and a fan. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Donovan Roukoz, 17, competes in shot-put, javelin, and running events. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Cara Roy and Michaela Costa, both Dartmouth High students, pose for the camera. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth High students Ben Paine, Roland Abiramia, and Nick Nunes grow ears for a photo. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth High student Grace Lenz poses with her parents Phil and Jill Lenz. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth High students and event volunteers Cali Andrade, Riley Piva, Chase Werner, Colin McCabe, and Austin Noble smile for a photo. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Durfee High School students pose for a photo. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
New Bedford's Kelvin Emerson, 15, competes in long jump. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth residents Betsy Belo and Maria Lopes watch the festivities from the shade. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
#playunified. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Jensen Andino, 9, and Cole Boudria, 8, cool off by the fan. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
One-year-old Annala Andino plays on the parachute. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Ayvah Medeiros, 7, runs to hand off the baton. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dom Vatalaro runs to hand off the baton, with Potter Elementary teacher Darren Fleurent running beside him. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
One of the Quinn Elementary unified teams poses for a photo. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Quinn Elementary's Avery Botelho, Alexis Benjamin, Austin Santos, and Daniel Howayeck pose with their medals. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Scott August poses with his son, also Scott August. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
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