Each year the Greater Kansas City Chapter of Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) provides volunteers to assist with the Special Olympics Area Track and Field Meet in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Rain or shine, the event is held, and the bikers are there to help. According to the organization’s web site, the mission of Special Olympics is “to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with mental disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.”
As usual, Tom Countryman served as H.O.G.’s contact with Dawn Jones, Area Director for Special Olympics. Tom made announcements at monthly chapter meetings and arranged for information to be printed in the newsletter to make sure members were informed. Recruiting required no arm-twisting, as members always look forward to this opportunity to show off their motorcycles and be a part of a very special event.
On Saturday morning, May 7, the bikers met at Hill Park in Independence, Missouri to ride to Lee’s Summit High School as a group. I had the honor of leading over 40 Harleys for about an hour over a route that included tree-lined areas along Lee’s Summit Road and the hills and curves along the east side of Lake Jacomo. The ride was fun, but the best part was yet to come. As soon as the bikes were parked, a curious and appreciative crowd of special athletes and their families gathered. They asked questions, told stories, posed for photos with bikes and bikers, and generally made our day.
After a quick lunch, the volunteers made their way to the track. The chapter is traditionally responsible for the 100-meter running and walking events for male competitors. Tasks include staging the athletes for the various heats, escorting them to the starting line, starting and timing the competitors, standing along the track to cheer and encourage the athletes, completing the requisite paperwork, and escorting the athletes to the awards stand to receive their medals. The cheering doesn’t stop until the last athlete crosses the finish line. Some are very fast runners. For others, merely reaching the finish line is a great accomplishment.
I asked Tom Countryman what keeps the bikers coming back for this event year after year. He talked about how gratifying it is to see the faces of the athletes light up when they see the Harleys coming. The H.O.G. members know that the athletes look forward to seeing the bikes as well as competing in their events. Tom and I reminisced about one year when the weather was so cold, most of the volunteers showed up in cars. There were five or six riders who braved the cold and brought their bikes. No one expressed disappointment at the number. They were just glad that the bikes had come.
At the conclusion of the event, Dawn Jones was kind enough to allow a few minutes for an interview.
CC: How many athletes are competing today and where do they come from?
Dawn: We have 473 athletes signed up. They represent five Missouri counties: Clay, Platte, Jackson, Cass, and Bates.
CC: What qualifies an athlete to compete in Special Olympics?
Dawn: They must have a diagnosis of mental retardation or closely related developmental disabilities such as functional limitations in learning and adaptive skills. Athletes with purely physical disabilities do not qualify. A mental disability is required.
CC: What is the age range of the competitors?
Dawn: They must be at least 8 years old, and there is no upper age limit. Our oldest athlete is about 74.
CC: In what events do they compete?
Dawn: There are individual and relay running and walking events with distances ranging from 25 meters to a mile. We have running long jump, standing long jump, softball throw and shot put competitions.
CC: Are the athletes required to belong to teams?
Dawn: Yes. They have to be on a team with a head coach. They have to be in training, not just show up on the day of the event. They take physicals and practice ahead of time. Their scores are turned in to me so we can assign the athletes to divisions based on their ability, gender, and age. That’s how we set up all of the heats for the day.
CC: Besides track and field, what other events are involved in Special Olympics?
Dawn: There are various team sports such as basketball, volleyball, soccer, bocce, and softball. We have golf, bowling, aquatics, power lifting, gymnastics, skiing, and ice skating. There are a total of 19 sports.
CC: Are there higher levels of competition?
Dawn: After area competition, they can qualify to go to state competition. The national games will be held next summer in Ames, Iowa. There are also international summer and winter games at four-year intervals.
CC: How many volunteers are here to help today?
Dawn: There were 460 signed up today.
CC: That’s great! What tasks do volunteers perform?
Dawn: For jumping and throwing events they measure and record distances. For running events volunteers assist in staging the athletes, getting them lined up, starting and timing the races, managing the necessary paperwork, and escorting athletes to the awards stands. They help distribute lunches and assist with equipment unloading, setup, and pick up.
CC: Please talk about the organizations that provide assistance.
Dawn: Various organizations and businesses provide monetary support, in-kind support, and volunteers. Bank of America made a large financial donation and brought out eighty volunteers. Wentworth Military Academy provided another large group of volunteers even though they are not really from our area. It’s really nice to have the large groups, since it’s easier to communicate and coordinate things with them. We really appreciate the Greater Kansas City Harley Owners Group. This is my tenth year of involvement, and they have helped every time. I know they were involved long before I got here. In addition to providing manpower, they put their motorcycles on display. The athletes love the Harleys and the riders are very good about letting them sit on bikes and pose for photos.
CC: If someone would like to make a donation to your organization, where should it be sent?
Dawn: Special Olympics Missouri, attention Dawn Jones, One Lee Drive, Merriam, Kansas 66202. Donations sent to that address are used locally in our five-county area. Our phone number is 913-789-0330, and my e-mail address is email@example.com. Lots of information is available on our web site.
CC: Thanks for the information, Dawn, and thanks for inviting us to participate.
The competitors in Special Olympics are truly special! Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” I’m convinced that, despite formidable circumstances, these special athletes don’t see any obstacles. They have incredibly strong determination to meet their goals. They take pride in their medals and the accomplishments they represent and exhibit great sportsmanship, team spirit, and fellowship. These athletes are a great example for all of us.
Story by Stripe
Photos by Stripe and Janet of www.whiterosephotography.net.