Atascadero High School hosted its inaugural Unified Special Olympics track and field meet last Friday. The event provides opportunities for Special Olympians to participate in athletic events but these kids gain much more than that.
“I’m going fast, like a fire, like electric, whichever the speeds go. Like a ceiling fan, and stuff, like way fast. Like a tornado, thunder, like a hurricane,” explains Jerry Zarate, a student in S.T.E.P., Students to Employment Program.
He is describing what he and other kids feel from running fast at the Special Olympics North County Unified track and field meet.
The inaugural event provides an opportunity for Special Olympians to be with their peers. “The special thing about this event is that it’s a unified event which means we have our typical peers here with the Special Olympians and supporting them and helping them,” said Holly Phillips, Special Education Program Coordinator for Atascadero Unified School District. “I think that’s what makes the event special.”
“It’s really important for them to feel like they’re a part of our school and supporting them. To make sure to tell them, ‘good job’, and showing them everyone sees them and that they’re awesome and great athletes too,” said Mary Sherer, a freshman at Atascadero High School.
The Special Olympics extends well beyond sports.
“It’s so important to have events like this because people have so many differences and hardships in this world. It’s really good for everyone to see what other people’s struggles are and especially in a world today. To be empathetic and understand,” Philips said.
And understand how these events serve as an opportunity for new friends.
“Today, I won first place and I have new friends and stuff, it’s so exciting,” said Hannah Pina, a Special Olympian from Atascadero Middle School.
“I feel like I actually get to be a part of something and to play with other people and have a good time,” said Kahlia Brown, a Special Olympian from Atascadero Middle School.
“I appreciate everybody who came to the track meet. I made a lot of friends. Everybody here has friends,” Zarate said.