Friends, family cheer at Special Olympics

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Westhills' 6th grader Eric Clark competes in the broad jump.

With 113 pre-registered contestants age five to 75, the Special Olympics at Westhills Elementary School on Friday attracted more than that many friends and relatives acknowledging diversity in Marshal County.

It was the 17th Annual Special Olympics in Lewisburg, according to Bobby Holly of Lewisburg, the unified sports area director for games with special athletes and peers from the Impact Center and homes across county lines.

"Before this," Holly said, "they participated in Columbia and then broke off in 1993 for our own games." Reacting to that was volunteer coach Bailey Roberts, 16, of Mooresville, who said she was born in 1993 and that she likes "helping the kids because they need it. When I was in middle school, I'd help the in class... some of them have trouble focusing."

Meanwhile, Sue Wilson, 76 on June 1, said she won ribbons for throwing the ball... and walking ... 100 yards." Wilson lives in Lewisburg with her cousin, Belle Gibson, 69, who said Wilson "does have some limitations. She only got to go through third grade."

Wilson and others at the Impact Center used to "work at little jobs provided by industry," Gibson said. The work included simple tasks available at other "activity centers" like cutting wires to a certain length to fit an electric circuit. "Now they go to movies in Pulaski and on TV and go out to eat and spend their days at the Impact Center" on Higgs Road in Lewisburg's Industrial Park. Wilson has participated in several Special Olympics.

Friday was the first time for Gage Blackwell, 7-year-old son of Tim and Lynnae Blackwell. Gage has Down Syndrome. Lynnae is the director of services at NHC in Lewisburg. As such, she agreed, she is in a position to speak at some length about her son's condition. Some of what she says might be familiar to many aware of Down, but her insights reflect all parents' responsibilities.

"It's very challenging," she began while following Gage onto the school's playground. "But he's very loving and very attentive. He notices details. He picks up on things like if you're crying or upset... I have four other children. He knows immediately if you're upset.

"The greatest challenge we have now is he is school-age," she said, starting to explain how action plans must be in place and how the public education system faces her challenges, too. "But, I've always kept medical records for him...

"And we have emergency plans," she said of what's organized to provide for Gage's needs if, for example, a traffic crash took his parents. "Of course, we don't want him to be a ward of the state."

She has an extensive folder on medical issues and what she and Tim have done to provide for Gage if they're not here. It's something all parents would want, but having a special needs child is a constant reminder that their care "is a full-time job," she said.

There are pleasant surprises. "He has no physical problems," she said, conceding he's not as coordinated as other children. "He can't skip, but we were told that he'd never be able to jump up with both feet, but he can."

What causes Down Syndrome?
"They don't know," Blackwell said. "Everybody has 23 pairs of chromosomes. Down Syndrome children have three on the 21st... If it happens early in the pregnancy, the syndrome is severe. If late, it's less severe.

"That's conjecture," she adds. "There are tests you can do. I had all of them and all came back normal." They include examinations of blood, head size during an ultrasound, and of the amniotic fluid around the unborn baby. Amniocentesis is "very" painful and also shows the child's sex and whether lungs are well developed.

"Gage was a surprise," she continued. "The day after I turned 39, I found out... They used to say that the cases were more prevalent with older eggs, but I have a woman who works with me whose daughter is 26 and she had a Down Syndrome child who will be a year old..."

Meanwhile, Gage's father says, "He's the best thing that ever happened to me. He's been a handful, but he's made my life. He's changed it, too."

Other lives have been changed. "She's sweet," Caitlin Cooper, 16, of Lewisburg says of her 6-year-old cousin, Matilda. Cooper was a volunteer at the Special Olympics as were Billy "Mudflap" Osborn and Rodney "Kid Rock" Mealer, both of Lewisburg.

Down Syndrome is named for John Langdon Down, a British doctor who described it in 1866, but it wasn't identified as a chromosomal disorder until 1959 by Jerome Lejeune. The developmental disability occurs in approximately one out of every 900 births.