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Athlete finds special strength

ERIC J. SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Special Education teacher Tommie Jones, right, congratulates Callie Bradford, 9, for her performance in the Area 7 Special Olympics Friday morning at the Natchez High School track. Callie’s sister Michelle, left, attended to cheer on her little sister.

NATCHEZ — Nine-year-old Callie Bradford might not have had two blue ribbons pined to her backpack Friday if her older sister was not cheering her on from the sidelines.

Callie agreed to compete in the wheelchair race at the Special Olympic’s on the condition that her sister, Michelle Bradford, 10, could come along, Area 7 Special Olympics Director Tommie Jones said.

Callie and 159 other participants competed in the Area 7 Special Olympics at the Natchez High School track field.

Michelle said when Callie needs a kick of courage, it’s big sis who knows just what to do.

ERIC J. SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — William Bell finishes first in the 100-meter walk.

“I call her ‘shy baby,’” Michelle said.

And with that challenge, Callie pushed her wheelchair, cracked a big smile and stepped up to the starting line, Michelle said.

Callie uses a wheelchair and is making strides learning to speak as a result of a stroke at age 1, Michelle said.

Jones said she has been recruiting Callie to participate in the Special Olympics for a long time, and Callie’s family agreed to let Callie compete if Michelle could be there to support her.

“She loves having me around,” Michelle said.

Michelle said she and Callie do everything together. They are both third-grade students at McLaurin Elementary School, where Callie attends special education classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Michelle said she helps Callie eat — chicken is Callie’s favorite — helps her practice walking and plays with her.

Rose White celebrates after competing in the 100-meter walk.

“Sometimes I’m like her teacher,” Michelle said.

Michelle helps Callie walk every day by holding her waist, Michelle said.

When Callie walks with Michelle letting go, Michelle gives her a treat — Gummi Bears.

Michelle said she and Callie also play hide-and-seek and play ball by rolling Callie’s ball back and forth on the porch. Callie is usually the hider and can scoot into many tight spots, Michelle said.

“Whenever I go outside, I take her with me,” Michelle said. “And whenever my mom takes us somewhere I ask, ‘Can I take Callie with us?’” Michelle said.

Michelle said Callie wanted her to be at the games because they are close and it makes Callie feel comfortable.

Callie won the 25-meter and 30-meter wheelchair race.

Callie’s smile showed the thrill of victory, and Michelle knew how the Special Olympics helped put it there.

“She was very happy to see me, and happy when everybody started rolling her and she won the race,” Michelle said.

Natchez High student Tasha Green, who helped push Callie in the wheelchair race, said Callie had some strong strides when she pushed the wheels herself.

Green, who is a member of the Natchez chapter of Jobs for Mississippi Graduates, was one of 125 student volunteers at the event.

Events included the wheelchair race, softball throw, tennis throw, long jump, 50- and 100-meter dash, assisted walk and bocce ball.

The Area 7 meet included participants from Natchez High, Robert Lewis Middle School, McLaurin Elementary and Frazier Primary School, as well as students from the Wilkinson and Jefferson county school districts.

Students from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Key Rehab, Cathedral School and a number of organizations at Natchez High also helped at the event.

“I could not run the meet without the volunteers,” Jones said. “They’re the glue that holds it together.”

At the end of the day, Michelle helped roll Callie to the wheelchair entrance on a school bus, and both sisters waved to each other until it drove away.

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