Athletes spread inspiring joy at Special Olympics
As he stood tall on the first place block, LaJustin Causey was all teeth as he waved both arms above his head and blew a kiss to his teacher in the stands.
The blue ribbon pinned to Causey’s school uniform scored him high fives from his physical therapist, his teacher from Wilkinson County High School, fellow athletes and strangers.
Causey had just beat out friend Ian Wilson in the 50-meter dash at Thursday’s Area 7 Special Olympics games at the Natchez High School track.
Looking like twins in their uniform polos and khakis, Causey, 16, and Wilson, 17, braced themselves at the starting line. But neither budged until they were both ready.
After bracing for the “ready-set,” instruction, both smiled, looked at each other and leaned forward when they heard “Go.”
Only after the starter urged them to “Go,” one more time, did their eyes unlock and both young men barrel toward the finish line. But the smiles remained through the huffing, puffing and a second-place finish for Wilson.
Area 7 Special Olympics Director Tommie Jones said the best way to understand what the games mean to the athletes pushing through their disabilities isn’t through words. A look around at the smiles like Causey’s tells it all.
Though some of the athletes vied hard for first place, for most, the glory comes from simply being a part of the games, Jones said.
“There’s so much happiness in just being part of an event,” Jones said.
Causey’s teacher, Trimeka Gaines, said Causey shed a few tears that morning because he was late and worried he would miss the bus ride to Natchez for the games.
But by Thursday afternoon, Causey was cocking his hip, teasing Gaines and displaying his usual upbeat and slightly sassy attitude, which was backed up by his first-place finish.
“He’s my shadow,” Gaines said as they joked around.
Causey’s mother, Jacqueline Causey, said Causey has been participating in the Special Olympics since elementary school, for six or seven years.
Besides the smiles he gets from winning gold, Jacqueline said the games teach him to communicate well with other children and how to be independent.
Causey’s physical therapist, Whitney Bradford of Key Rehab Associates, stood ready to receive Causey with a hug and hand slap as he stepped down from podium.
Bradford said the games offer physical benefits as well.
“LaJustin has been working on running and balance, and I definitely see an improvement,” Bradford said.
As a result of his diagnosis, Causey has low muscle tone. She cheered for him at the games last year and his stride was much more wobbly, Bradford said. The games were a good way to showcase his progress, she said.
“Getting out here (competing), they don’t even know they’re working,” Bradford said.
Thursday’s event saw athletes from the Wilkinson County School District, Jefferson County School District, Natchez High School, Robert Lewis Middle School, Morgantown Elementary School and Frazier Primary School. Events included the 100-meter dash, 50-meter dash, 25-meter wheel chair race, 100-meter walk, 100-meter assisted walk, long ump, tennis ball throw, softball throw and bocce ball.
The games lift up the athletes’ spirits higher than podiums can, Gaines said. And whether it’s a smile, hug or a concerned question on a bad day, Gaines students’ high spirits carry her up with them, she said.
“They do things (every day) to lift me up.”