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National Special Olympics games a life-changing experience

NATCHEZ — If you looked at a photo of Chandler Warren before and after he competed in the 2010 Special Olympics National Games, you probably wouldn’t see any differences.

But Chandler’s father, Ricky Warren, certainly has. He may not look different, but there’s been a difference personality-wise, Ricky Warren said.

“It changed him. It gave him a lot more self-confidence being able to attend,” Ricky Warren said.

“Tommie Jones, our (Special Olympics) area director, even said she saw a change in all the athletes, especially Chandler. It meant so much to all of them, and each of them had their self-confidence built up.”

Chandler Warren, along with Angelina Jackson, Jordan Couch, Sadie Saunders and Haley Freeman, were locals that competed in the national games July 19-23 in Lincoln, Neb.

“Nobody from Natchez had ever been to nationals. We had a couple from Mississippi go (four years ago). This is only the second time they’ve done the national games,” Ricky Warren said.

Chandler Warren, who competed in aquatics, finished first in the 25-yard backstroke, fifth in the 50-yard freestyle and first in the 4X25-yard freestyle relay.

Jordan Couch, who also competed in aquatics, placed second in the 25-yard backstroke, first in the 25-yard freestyle and third in the 4X25-yard freestyle relay.

Sadie Saunders, who competed in bocce, finished second in the bocce doubles and fourth in the bocce team event. Angelina Jackson, who competed in track and field, placed first in the 100-meter run and sixth in the long jump.

“Winning gold was one of my favorite parts. I was even more happy then when I got the local gold medal,” Chandler Warren said.

Ricky Warren said the athletes were also blessed with two very good coaches that took care of them the entire week.

“Chris Brasher and Sarah Ball, both of them donated their entire week to go to Lincoln and help us. They were in charge of taking care of the athletes,” Ricky Warren said.

Chandler Warren said the two coaches were nice, and they made sure each athlete was fed three times a day.

“They took care of us. They took us to breakfast, lunch and dinner at the cafeteria. The food was good,” Chandler Warren said.

Haley Freeman competed in aquatics, and got two first-finishes in the 25-yard backstroke and 25-yard freestyle. She also placed third in the 4X25-yard freestyle relay.

“The whole thing was indescribable,” said Mandy Wisner, Freeman’s mother.

“We went there thinking it was going to be like the state games, but there was such an energy there that made us competitive. Neither Haley nor myself are that competitive. Since this only happens once every four years, we looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Freeman said she enjoyed the experience, especially since she got to room with Couch on the University of Nebraska campus — even if Couch tended to wake up at a snail’s pace.

“I told her to hurry up,” Freeman joked.

“I also like swimming and seeing my name on the big scoreboard. I loved it when my Momma cheered for me.”

The parents of the athletes were also introduced to a new program called Project UNIFY while on the trip, which the local Special Olympics group plans to incorporate in the future, Ricky Warren said.

“It takes special people, especially school-aged ones, and lets them mingle in the community,” Ricky Warren said.

“It’s funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and we plan to mingle with the kids involved with the Adams County Extension Service.”

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