By Sydney Shaw
This summer, 2,500 athletes and their families wandered up and down the boardwalk, lay out on the sand, enjoyed rides and ate their weight in funnel cake.
No, they weren’t down the shore. They were right in Lot 4 at the College for the New Jersey Special Olympics Summer Games and 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
The Summer Games opening ceremony on Friday, May 30, included the traditional torch lighting of the cauldron and a speech by Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood.
The night was capped off by a B-Street Band concert and a spectacular fireworks show.
The games began on Saturday, June 14, when athletes competed in seven different sports, including track and field events, bocce in the soccer stadium, softball, swimming in Packer Hall, powerlifting in Kendall Hall and tennis on the outdoor courts. Gymnastic events were hosted at the Schafer School of Gymnastics in Lawrenceville.
Between events, athletes had the chance to test their luck at games of chance and skill, enjoy amusement park rides and taste classic boardwalk treats.
“Genuine Jersey Pride defines Special Olympics New Jersey and celebrates the impact we have on all who participate as well as those privileged to witness the magic every time an athlete with an intellectual disability takes the field, scores a goal, achieves a personal best time, or simply experiences the joy of participation,” the Special Olympics New Jersey mission statement reads.
Two weeks later, 215 of the athletes who competed in the N.J. Summer Games returned to the Mercer County area to represent Team New Jersey in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
Those athletes, along with almost 3,300 competitors from other states, were invited to every Trenton Thunder baseball home game that week.
Volunteers for the games numbered more than 10,000.
While the College has hosted the Special Olympics New Jersey State Summer Games competition since 1990, this is the first time that the National Games, which take place every four years, have been hosted in New Jersey.
“It showcases their abilities on that playing field, but also shows them that they can succeed off the playing field in life,” spokesperson Heather Andersen said. “There are so many other things for them.”
The national games included several more sports — athletics, baseball, basketball, bowling, cycling, flag football, golf, soccer, triathlon and volleyball.
The College hosted basketball, bocce and powerlifting for the 2014 Games, as well as holding the triathlon awards ceremony.
Some of the competitors from the Garden State who went home with a medal include Ryan Hardgrove, with first place in aquatics for the 100-yard butterfly; Jacklyn Fuentes, with first place in the 100-meter run; Victor Yarnall with first place for the powerlifting male squat and John Rosati, with second place in the male bench press.
The dynamic duo Iris Tucker and Jane McCarney won third place in doubles bowling, while Shaleena Tomassini won first place in the 400-meter wheelchair race.
For many athletes, though, the games aren’t about taking home the gold. They are about proving to themselves that they can accomplish what was previously believed to be impossible. The games and their athletic performances are about never giving up.
They are not about overcoming disability, but succeeding in spite of it.
“We hope that their memories will last a lifetime of their week in New Jersey,” said Special Olympics USA Games Chairman and CEO T.J. Nelligan.