Bright Future: Local athletes headed to compete in National Special Olympics
NATCHEZ — Six local athletes will be among the 3,500 smiling faces competing in the 2014 Special Olympics USA National Games next week.
Athletes from Mississippi Special Olympics Area 7, which covers Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Wilkinson and Amite counties, will travel to New Jersey Saturday to join athletes from across the country to compete in 14 Olympic-style sports.
Among those local athletes traveling to the Princeton area will be Chandler Warren, who will only have one thing on his mind the entire trip — other than his fear of flying.
“I’m going to get a gold medal,” said Warren, who will be competing in the bocce ball category. “I’ve been practicing a lot.”
Warren is no stranger to the Special Olympics or the national games, which are hosted every four years.
The last time the national games were hosted in 2010, Warren and his father, Ricky, traveled to Lincoln, Neb., for the event.
But last time Warren competed in those games, it was in a different sport.
“Chandler won two gold medals for swimming last time we went, so he wanted to try something different this time,” Ricky said. “He started playing bocce, and now he wants to win a gold medal in that.”
Ricky will travel with his son to New Jersey for the games next week and said the trip is a great chance for Chandler and all the athletes to receive recognition.
“It’s so great to get there and see 3,500 smiling faces,” Ricky said. “None of them are really too competitive because really they’re all competing against their disabilities.”
Warren will meet up with the five other local athletes in New Jersey for the opening ceremonies.
Rosekita Johnson will travel to participate in the games as well and will compete in the swimming category.
The trip will be Johnson’s first to the national games, which is bringing about a slew of emotions for the Natchez resident.
“I’m nervous, but excited,” Johnson said, smiling. “It’s going to be fun.”
Johnson originally played and competed in the bocce category in local events, until one day she was encouraged to start swimming, her mother Roosevelt said.
“She started swimming and just started having so much fun,” Roosevelt said. “She’s always played sports even from an early age, but now she is all about swimming.”
Rosekita trains at the pool at the Natchez Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center and said she is prepared to travel to the event and bring home the gold.
“I think I can win,” Rosekita said. “I’ll get the gold medal.”
Area 7 Special Olympics Director Tommie Jones said she encourages the athletes to have fun and not take the events too competitively, even though they did earn their spot to compete at the national level.
Jones said athletes are selected to travel to the national games by earning points at different events throughout the last four years.
“These athletes have earned the trip because they’ve had good enough scores to compete,” Jones said. “But really this is just a huge self esteem booster for them and all the athletes participating.
“It changes their lives and allows people to respect them and see them in a different light — as athletes competing for recognition.”
Jones said money raised during the organization’s annual golf tournament would pay for the six local athletes to travel to the national games.
Area 7 will have athletes competing in the track and field, swimming and bocce ball categories.
No matter how the athletes do in each competition, Jones said the games themselves would be enough reward for all of their hard work and dedication.
“To see their reaction when they get there and just be a part of the happiness is truly amazing,” Jones said. “They know that people are recognizing them, and it drives them to do their best.”