MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- MOULTRIE, Ga. - What defines an athlete? Is it strength? Is it speed? Is it skill? In some cases, all an athlete needs is the will to compete.
Special athletes gathered to demonstrate their will to compete at the 2002 Area 14 Special Olympics Winter Games here Friday. Twenty-two Marines from MCLB Albany were among the 400 volunteers, athletes and community representatives who participated in the annual event.
An opening ceremony at Moultrie's Willie J. Williams Middle School Gymnasium kicked off the games in front of a cheering crowd. The athletes carried their teams' flag during the ceremony's parade to the roar of applause from the spectators.
Each flag detail reveled the long hours the athletes spent on the designs, which emphasized the virtues the Special Olympics hold in high esteem, such as team work, sportsmanship and friendship.
The Special Olympics' mission is to "provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with mental retardation, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in the sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community," according to a Special Olympics news release.
Athletes were entertained by a Colquitt High School band ensemble while they waited for the opportunity to showcase the hard work they put into preparing for the games.
According to Tammy Jordan, a Special Olympics coach with Doughtery County, the athletes look forward all year to being able to test their abilities at the games. They practice and work hard to prepare themselves.
"It is very important that we give these athletes this chance," said Jordan. "They are so excited at the chance to compete."
Athletes competed in a variety of activities, including indoor hockey, basketball and dancing. The activities were held at different athletic facilities in the area. Although the competition level was high, winning was not the goal of the participants.
"We are proud of all the participants," said Darrel Moore of the Moultrie/Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce. "Each participant is a winner. Each is successful."
One athlete who excelled in the basketball shootout competition was ecstatic after placing high in the competition. This was Chris Biviens' third year participating in the games, and his bright eyes and big smile showed he was having fun. A Moultrie, Ga., native, Biviens plans to participate in the Winter Games again next year.
Although the focus was on athletes' participating in the games, volunteers also received a sense of fulfillment helping with the games.
"I like to see the smiles on the athletes' faces when they do well," said Jordan.
The expressions cannot be described with words, said Cpl. Jonathan Nelson, of Marine Corps Systems Command and a native of Omaha, Neb.
Volunteers had no difficulty locating happy faces during the games, whether it was after making a basket, or just being able to compete. Several expressed the gratification they comes with being needed to help out with the children.
Marines are known for their community-oriented attitudes. The reputation comes along with being a leatherneck. But Staff Sgt. Kevin Alicie, a functional systems analyst at the Marine Corps Systems Command at MCLB Albany also saw the games as a great opportunity for Marines to answer questions about the military and, more specifically, the Corps. Alicie felt that some people might be apprehensive about walking into a recruiting office to ask questions, but would feel at ease with Marines in a social or civic situation.
Several Marines said the Special Olympics athletes brought their own unique love of life into the arena. According to one Marine, seeing an athlete overcome his anxiety about an event was inspiring.
Sgt. James Presley of MCLB Albany's Provost Marshal's Office was just glad to be able to help and to experience the games. He said that everyone enjoyed a sense of accomplishment by helping out.
The games concluded with all participants, athletes and volunteers alike, being winners. The 2002 Special Olympics Winter Games was a unique experience for everyone.