INSIDE SOSC: Athletes Use the Force

WeAreSOSC.org made its way to both the most northern and southern areas of Special Olympics Southern California’s footprint this past week.

Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo played host to a simultaneous doubleheader, while Carlsbad High School was the site of the San Diego Regional Spring Games.

Games a Hit in San Luis Obispo

More than 750 athletes competed for gold, silver and bronze medals and ribbons at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Spring Games and School Games, displaying their skills in track and field, bocce, swimming and basketball last Friday.

Douglas Figueroa

Douglas Figueroa | Photo by Chris Jones

Douglas Figueroa, a Special Olympics athlete for the past 18 years, enjoyed yet another year of competition and exuded enthusiasm as he came off a stellar shot put performance.

“I like shotput, all running events, and long jump,” Douglas said. “I’ve won 78 medals and I think I just won my 79th!”

Dané Abraham, Douglas’ longtime friend, watched in support.

“I’m so happy that the Special Olympics exist,” he said. “We’re blessed to have people in our lives like Douglas who bring us so much joy every day. I love to come support him and watch him compete.”

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It’s not just the athletes in the area who come back year after year, either.

Wendy Osbourne has been volunteering at SOSC events with Camp San Luis Obispo HQ for nearly 13 years. The booth provided athletes the opportunity to play a friendly game of bean toss and the chance to win prizes like toy soldiers and bookmarks.

David Ruiz and Wendy Osbourne

David Ruiz, left, and Wendy Osbourne were among the volunteers in San Luis Obispo. | Photo by Chris Jones

Also joined with Camp San Luis Obispo was David Ruiz of the Army National Guard Base. David has been volunteering for SOSC events for eight years. The joy David displayed was undeniable, watching him interact with the SOSC athletes. David said he also enjoys participating in his local Tip-A-Cop and Torch Run programs.

Special Olympics Southern California is incredibly grateful to have thousands of volunteers, like Wendy and David, who help support our athletes and further our cause for acceptance, inclusion and well-being.

A ‘Mermaid’ Flourishes in San Diego County

On this May 4, the force was strong with the athletes competing at the San Diego Regional Spring Games at Carlsbad High School.

Volunteers, including a group dressed as “Star Wars” characters, helped greet the athletes as they walked onto the football field for Opening Ceremonies.

Prior to the competition, San Diego County basketball player Jordan Love was presented the Chuck and Pilar Bahde Outstanding Athlete Award, while the Michael W. Harahan Outstanding Volunteer Award went to coach Beth Selbe.

Jordan’s coach, Ken Pruitt, credited her for showing up to each practice with a positive attitude and desire to develop not just her own on-court skills, but her teammates, too.

“She is the epitome of a sportswoman,” he said. “Happy and humble when she wins and graceful when she doesn’t.”

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More than 450 athletes competed in basketball, bocce and swimming events.

Heather McEldowney, a 26-year-old swimmer from Encinitas, enjoys being in the water and competing alongside her friends. She’s also received valuable advice from the coaches who’ve helped her become the competitor she is today.

“Don’t give up and do your best, just like the Special Olympics (athlete) oath,” said Heather, who competed in the 25-meter breaststroke and freestyle and the 50-meter freestyle.

Heather McEldowney

San Diego County swimmer Heather McEldowney | Photo by Cesar Fernandez

It’s a long way, her mother said, from the first time a 10-year-old Heather first got in a pool. Channeling that oath, she proved to be brave in the attempt.

“She wouldn’t leave the side of the pool because of the drain,” she recalled. “Then, her first meet at Palomar College, (she was in) a middle lane. The coach and I looked at each other, and she jumped right in and it’s been fine ever since.

“She feels more comfortable, I think, in the water than on land. She loves to swim.”

But Heather is no fish out of water.

“I prefer mermaid,” she quickly said.

Inside the SOSC is a blog managed by staff member Tracy McDannald. SOSC staff member Chris Jones and volunteer Cesar Fernandez contributed to this report. It is a more feature-style approach to looking inside what makes Special Olympics Southern California so unique, so special. It is meant to explore the people and their stories. One word at a time.

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