At the finish line, the 11-year-old smiled wide and bathed in the adulation and camera flashes from the crowd, which roared in approval after it had been hushed only moments before the start of the race.
The superstar treatment was a common occurrence at the Georgia Area 9 Special Olympics, where as many as 900 athletes from 12 counties across the region competed for the 250 spots in the state games in May at Atlanta’s Emory University.
Jovarius is likely to be there, outpacing second-place finisher Antwan Pierson, of Columbia County, by more than five seconds.
“Running is what I do,” said Jovarius, of Washington County, as he exchanged high-fives with his classmates.
Winning was not the main draw to Wednesday’s events, however. It was letting special education students run on the same fields and tracks that Army cadets, pro athletes and grade school standouts use to experience an existence that “feels normal,” said Arthur Dickerson, the chairman of the Area 9 Special Olympics, one of Georgia’s largest.
Dickerson has been involved in Special Olympics since it began in 1968, accompanying four local athletes to the first International games in Chicago.
The games have since expanded to all developmental skill sets and more than 10 games – including softball toss, bocce, long distance jumping, running and walking.
“This is a great sporting event,” Dickerson said. “We are giving these children the opportunity to compete against their peers in a program that is designed exclusively for them and carries all of the usual Olympic traditions.”
Festivities on Wednesday began at 10 a.m. with the lighting of the torch and the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band playing the Special Olympics opening theme song. Games began at 11 a.m.
Fort Gordon’s Col. Robert Barker welcomed the crowd, saying the Army post was delighted
to hold the spring events and looks forward to many more in the future.