The optimism and joy of the Special Olympics was on full display Wednesday as Jose Vega lit the torch to commence the regional games at Fort Gordon.
Vega let out a victorious whoop as the gas ignited, then climbed down from the podium to celebrate some more.
“He’s got a lot of team spirit,” said his coach, Kim Huttart.
Huttart was leading the Lynndale Lions of Augusta, one of dozens of teams from a nine-county area competing to qualify for the state championships in Atlanta beginning May 18. Fort Gordon has held the event for 28 years and is one of the largest qualifying meets in the state. About 750 Olympians ages 5 to 60 were competing Wednesday in events such as foot races, softball throw and long jump. By their side were soldiers, sailors and Marines recording scores, measuring distances and slapping high-fives.
“I really like to see the Army guys,” said Wil Sanders, 14, who was competing in the softball throw with fellow athletes from Evans Middle School.
Teresa McGahee brought the Richmond Eagles to compete. The training during the past three months has brought confidence to several of the athletes and allowed them to meet new people, McGahee said.
“It’s been really great to watch them come out of their shells,” she said.