RICHMOND, Va. -- The cheering is the first thing that gets your attention.
And it's the first thing greeting these athletes at this competition.
"They want to compete and have a good time too," said Ryan Leary, a student at VCU's Center for Sport Leadership. "It's really cool seeing the work they put in practices translating to the court and things like that. I know these kids have been practicing all semester for this."
This is the Richmond Big Feet Meet, a Special Olympics event, that brings together over 200 athletes from 13 Richmond City schools. It's run by students from the Center for Sport Leadership at VCU, a way for them to gain real world experience in running an event, while also getting real world perspective in just how much their work means to others.
"I use the word inspiring a lot to talk about how impressive it is to see these youth come out here with such energy, such passion and such competitive spirit," added Adam Richardson, another CSL student.
"If you invest yourself and actually give time, invest in the athletes and want to make the experience good for them, it's gonna make the experience good for you," Leary said.
For the first time, the meet was a qualifier for the Summer State Games that will be held in Richmond next month. While the times and distances might fall short of what Sportsbackers stadium is used to seeing with other meets, the emotion and effort is incredibly similar.
"I don't see a lot of differences," Richardson said. "I see drive. I see heart. I see compassion and I really see that competitive spirit."
"Everybody has individual differences," explained Kathy Parker. "They accept everybody for what they can offer."
What meets like this offer is the chance to compete just like anyone else. Parker is a teacher at Boushall Middle School and Jordan Filmore is one of her students.
Jordan's family suffered a house fire last summer and while Jordan was rescued from the blaze, she lost several pets. It has been a very trying school year for Jordan, but the Special Olympics has given her something different on which to focus her energy and emotions.
"She can be herself no matter what," Parker said. "What she does is enough. Even though she is competing against other people, it's her own personal competition that works for her."
Jordan doesn't like to talk about her loss publicly, but she will tell anyone who listens what Special Olympics does for her and her classmates.
"Just to let other people know that they can do anything they put their minds to and you can do anything you want to if you just blieve in yourself that you can do it," Jordan said.
And the enthusiasm and effort show here goes beyond any finish line, all the way back to the halls and classrooms at Boushall.
"There's more acceptance," added Parker. "They support each other more than it used to be. There used to be a lot of teasing but now there's more support."
This year's Special Olympics state games will be held here in Richmond on June 8 and 9. To learn more or to volunteer for that weekend, click here.
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