They gather but once a year, each one wearing bright T-shirts that will dazzle the eyes and beaming smiles that will tug at the heartstrings.
They are the athletes of the Bladen County Special Olympics.
On Friday, more than 100 athletes — ranging in age from 8 to 70-plus years of age — came together on the athletic fields of Elizabethtown Middle School for the annual Spring Games. Appropriately, the Games took place on the first full day of spring, the start of a season for rejuvenation, renewal and hopeful anticipation.
For anyone who hasn’t yet spent even a little time observing the goings-on during the Spring Games, you have no idea what magical moments you are missing. There are very few things that will touch you in a deeper way.
If there is a word to describe what is in the hearts of these athletes, it might be “joy.” And if there is a second word, it might be “determination.” After all, these individuals are just like the rest of us, in that they take great pleasure in being outdoors involved in an activity, as well as participating in a competitive event.
But make no mistake about it, they have each been given a greater challenge than the rest of us. Though few of them lay their heads down at night hoping for a better tomorrow, most awake each day seeing the bright side of what lays ahead of them. And unlike many of us, they often make the most of opportunities presented to them.
While we applaud each and every one of these individuals for that joy and determination they showed the rest of us on Friday, we also give them tremendous applause for the fortitude and resilience they must have each and every day.
And while we are handing out kudos, we can’t forget those who work tirelessly with these individuals — both in putting events like Friday’s Spring Games together, as well as those who interact with them every day. These folks are nothing short of special themselves, and probably should be seen as some of life’s heroes.
While it is always the Bladen Journal staff’s pleasure to publicize and cover the Spring Games each year, it is us who feels the true reward of being around such truly special people.