After all the work that went into bringing the Georgia Games to Augusta, it is only fitting that the first medals were awarded to two local teens.
The Georgia Games rhythmic gymnastics competition Friday at Augusta State Athletic Complex was the place, and 19-year-old Amanda Pedersen and 18-year-old Janet Serrano were the gold medal winners in the duets division. There were 30 competitors in the event.
The duo were able to take the gold medals after a strong performance in the hoop and ribbon portions of the competition. But winning is nothing really new to Pedersen, a graduate of Greenbrier High School born with Down's syndrome, and Serrano, a learning-disabled Evans High school alumna. The two rhythmic gymnastics and Special Olympics veterans are used to excelling in competition.
"They're good examples of what handicapped athletes can do and achieve," said event coordinator Cindy Bickman.
Participating in rhythmic gymnastics has given the young women confidence, said Doris Harris, Amanda's mother and the duo's coach."It starts the learning skills that help make them comfortable within the community," Harris said. "It helps ease or completely rid the stigma."
Serrano was the most decorated athlete in rhythmic gymnastics entering Friday's event, having won three golds and two silvers at the World Special Olympic Games in Raleigh, N.C., earlier this month.
Serrano said she was extremely excited to get the opportunity to compete in her hometown and receive the first official gold medal along with her partner.
For now, the two teens plan to savor their victory before returning to the YWCA on Wheeler Road to train for upcoming state competitions, with one eye on the next World Games in Dublin, Ireland, four years from now.
"We're definitely going to have to do some fund-raising for that," Harris said.
Mark Mathis can be reached at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.