The true heroes of the Special Olympics were the 3,500 athletes that traveled across the county, country, and globe to attend an event that celebrates their spirit.
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Their enthusiasm was overwhelming; the thrill of being able to participate was the most important aspect of the games to many of the Olympians. Upon completion of their events, many athletes would rush to the payphones to call home with news of their accomplishments.
"Mom, hi mom," said one Olympian. "I won. I didn’t win a gold, but I got a silver. Isn’t that great?"
That is the spirit of the International Special Olympics.
From a report in the Buffalo Courier Express on August 11, 1979.
The Santa Rosa, California Press Democrat reported on August 7, 1979 about one such athlete, Don Eldlich. Edlich is from Sonoma County and is the only person from his area to qualify for the Special Olympics in Brockport. At 49 years of age, and six feet, five inches tall, he will be going for glory in the softball throw and the standing long jump. He has been training for these events by running a mile and a half every day.
Though he understands competition will be tough, Edlich says, " I’m doing my part to help my school, coaches, and the people I work for. I want to do good." Edlich is being sent cross-country on $2,000 his local hospital received during fundraisers. There are other things on this athlete’s mind beyond competition; he is looking forward to meeting some of his favorite celebrities.
The New York State Special Olympics Floor Hockey Team did not have the day they hoped for on Friday, August 10, 1979. The team was comprised of Erie County hockey players, and they lost their first two games: 23-0 against the Canadian B team, and 13-1 against the California team.
However, the game against the Canadians was interrupted by a special surprise: the arrival of some celebrity hockey players.
"There! He’s Bobby Orr," proclaimed one exuberant hockey when Orr entered with Phil Esposito and Bryan Watson. Much to the Special Olympians’ delight, they received autographs and even got to scrimmage the famous athletes.
So, perhaps Friday was not such a bad day for the New York State Special Olympics Floor Hockey team after all.
Reported from the Buffalo Courier Express on August 11, 1979.
The Buffalo Evening News reported on August 12, 1979 about "Wendy Adams, 11, of Kenmore (who) is a frail little girl who looks a little like Raggedy Ann. She is blind. She cannot speak. Her teachers told her she was incapable of skating, but after four hours with Buffalo instructor Elizabeth O’Donnell, she was doing spirals, spins, drags and crossovers.
That was two months ago. This weekend, Wendy Adams was here in Brockport, and the girl who would never skate was out on the synthetic ice with Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, teaching others to skate. That is, Miss O’Donnell said, ‘what the Special Olympics are all about.’"
One 16-year-old swimmer from Scotland has the mighty support of an entire soup factory behind her as she competes in the butterfly and freestyle in the Brockport Games. Angeling Bucham, has temporarily left her job as a labeler in a soup factory in her hometown of Peter Head, Scotland. The factory has been helping her by allowing her to train for one hour a day during her shift. The support from her community has been amazing, and they even provided her with a mascot – a little stuffed fish – to bring her good luck.
Reported from Times Union on August 9, 1979.
Alan Pransky, 31, and Noreen Farrell, 43, traveled to Brockport from Long Island to compete in wheelchair events. They live at the Suffolk Developmental Center in Melville, Long Island, are confined to wheelchairs, and are in love.
"She is my girlfriend," acknowledges Alan. Noreen nods her head in agreement. They have been together for about three years and are each other’s well wishers and support before and after each event.
Alan’s story is particularly inspirational; because of his disability, he must roll backwards to compete in the wheelchairs races. Bumping into people in the neighboring lanes can be a problem, but Alan has adapted to meet his challenge and is likely the only backwards racer in the Brockport Special Olympics Competition.
From The Times Union on August 11, 1979.
Special Olympians from around the country had to surmount a difficult challenge in order to make it to Brockport in 1979; they needed to earn enough money to finance their way. On August 10, 1979, the Times Union reported on the variety of ways money was raised.
Delaware delegates spent three years earning $9,000 that was necessary for their 40 participants and 10 chaperones to make it. They held fund-raising events such as a dinner theater and "Sponsor an Athlete" programs.
In Michigan, they needed $56,000 which they earned largely through a "Super Star" competition. A Special Olympian, chaperone, and a celebrity (quite often a Michigan sports star) competed in games that were attended by 2,000 people. Major corporations contributed the rest to help the 90 participants and 22 chaperones travel to Brockport.
In California, many methods were used to raise money. Special Olympics posters were sold to business sponsors and a golf tournament helped to pay the $500 cost of transporting 90 athletes and 18 chaperones to the Special Olympics games in Brockport.