Special Olympics draws athletes, volunteers to Aviano
November 14, 2004
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — There’s a common sports saying: You can’t tell the players without a program.
There weren’t any programs on hand Saturday as Aviano Air Base hosted a Special Olympics track and field meet. And they would have had to be printed in both English and Italian if there were.
But not having a program didn’t seem to be a problem for the two dozen or so players. Athletes moved from station to station, competing in seven different events and gathering high-fives and cheers along the way. They also gathered medals afterward.
Just about everyone among the 250 or so on hand had one thing in common: smiles.
“I could be sleeping, but that’s not important,” said Tech. Sgt. Rayshawnda Davis, one of about 170 volunteers from the base who turned out to help.
Davis handed athletes “javelins” that looked suspiciously like handles for long feather dusters — minus the feathers.
“It’s a good volunteer opportunity. Plus I like the kids,” she said.
Organizers say they didn’t have much trouble getting a good turnout of volunteers.
“I think Special Olympics is just a natural draw,” said Master Sgt. Geoff Kerr. “We never have any trouble getting people out for this. Other events … it’s like pulling teeth.”
The athletes participated in the 50- and 100-meter dashes, standing long jump, Frisbee toss, softball shot put, the feather-duster javelin and soccer kick.
Master Sgt. Garth Meade, the chief organizer, said the events are among those sanctioned by Special Olympics. All were held on or inside the base’s outdoor track, so organizers needed some help from the weather. They got it — no rain.
Meade said the event was originally targeted for September, but other considerations pushed it back.
“It’s perfect today,” he said, looking at the snow-capped mountains a few miles from the track. “Otherwise, we were just going to have to wait until March or April.”
Meade said the ominous clouds did keep the number of participants lower than hoped. A contingent of athletes from Trieste didn’t make the trip due to weather concerns.
That left the Pordenone contingent from the Associazione Nazionale Familia Fanciulli Subnormale alone on the field.
That also meant there were more than six American volunteers for every Italian participant.
“We had over 100 volunteers sign up within a couple hours,” said Vickie Jo Ryder, the volunteer coordinator on base. About 40 of those were members of an Airmen Leadership School class and 20 more are members of the high school JROTC. The rest came from units all over the base.
Meade’s hope is that future events will draw similar participation from Italian communities. In addition to Trieste, he said groups from Udine and to the south and west also would be welcome.
“Our vision is to bring [groups from] most of northern Italy here,” he said.