There were a lot of smiles yesterday - and some good-natured competition - at a Special Olympics event that drew 1,500 children and adults from 10 northwest Ohio counties.
Sandy Wiley-Steward, a 36-year-old South Toledo homemaker, called the 2008 Jennifer Adams Spring Games at the University of Toledo "an awesome opportunity for them [the athletes] to participate in a community event and to learn to compete."
The athletes, as well as those who came to cheer for them, stood proudly as the games opened with the Special Olympics oath:
"Let Me Win
But If I Cannot Win
Let Me Be Brave
In The Attempt."
Mrs. Wiley-Steward, a mother of three, was among 100 people in the bleachers on one side of UT's track field.
They watched as athletes competed in track-and-field events and listened to pop hits such as "Son of a Preacher Man," "The Pink Panther Theme," and "Oh! Pretty Woman."
Mrs. Wiley-Steward's son, Tyler Wiley, 15, is a freshman at Rogers High School in Toledo who was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome.
He competed in the softball throw and the 400-meter walk.
"I see happiness in him every time he competes in the [Special] Olympics," Mrs. Wiley-Steward said of Tyler, who has participated in the games since he was 8.
She held a sign that read: "Go Tyler Wiley! We love you."
One of Tyler's brothers, Aaron Steward, 8, a second grader at Walbridge Elementary School, said he was there to support his brother.
"I love him, and I want him to win," Aaron said.
Mrs. Wiley-Steward said Tyler's condition has made her see the world as "a completely different person."
"Having him in my life has changed me. It made me outspoken. It made me speak out for people with disabilities," she said.
Yesterday, Tyler won the bronze for the 400-meter walk in his group of five and got the gold for the softball throw.
When Tyler was walking, Aaron and their youngest brother, Ian Steward, 6, a kindergartner at Walbridge Elementary, ran inside the track, cheering on their brother all the way around, their mother said.
Tyler summed up the experience with these words: "I feel great!"
Other events included power lifting, volleyball, bocce, cycling, volleyball, beanbag toss, and badminton.
Bocce took place in Jermain Park on Upton Avenue, cycling at Ottawa Park, and other events in UT's Health Education Building.
The games were dedicated to the memory of Jennifer Adams, who served as the Special Olympics west section director and coordinator for Lucas County. She died Jan. 27, 2006, at age 56.
"It's a great boost for their spirit, for their morale, [because] they all know that we think highly of them as [we] are cheering for them," said Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who was at the games.
"And it is good for our spirit as well to see people who could feel sorry for themselves, but who instead are here to show that - no matter what the condition they are dealing with - they are here to race and jump high," he said.
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