There were no gold medals awarded at the Loudoun County Special Olympics last week. But as far as the sponsors were concerned, there were 300 winners.
The stars of the event, which was held on the lavish grounds of the Xerox Corporation's Training Center outside Leesburg, were handicapped children from Loudoun County who competed in a variety of track and field events. The 2,000-acre facility, maintained under tight security and stocked with an estimated 800 deer, was the backdrop for the games.
The games were sponsored by the Loudon County Recreation Department. Employees of Xerox put aside their computers and copiers, and spent the day working as volunteers.
Started 12 yeras ago by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, the Special Olympics are held across the country every year to provide a way for handicapped children to particpate in athletics. Unlike other sporting events , the emphasis at the Special Olympics is always on participation rather than on winning. Once a year, representatives from local Special Olympics gather to participate in a national competion.
In recent years, the local events have begun attracting a wide variety of well-known people. The Loudoun County competition was no exception. Among the guests were Alan Reich, a quadraplegic who was appointed by President Carter as chairman of the Year of the Disabled Person for 1981 and David Kearns, president of Xerox Corporation.
While a high school band set the rhythm, the children walked, skipped or were wheeled onto the artificial turf of the putting green for the opening ceremonies which include the lighting of the Olympic torch and the release of thousands of bright balloons.
The games began after brief remarks from guests and after several awards were presented to Xerox for hosting the games.
While there were several minor drawbacks -- resulting from the fact that the athletic fields are not laid out to accommodate the handicapped -- most of the children were determined to give the games their best shot.
The frisbee throwing was slightly inhibited by trees on the far side of a stream, and some of the children had to struggle along winding asphalt running paths to the track and field events. Several children said that they were too tired to compete after making their way in the steamy heat to the playing fields.
Signs along the hilly paths proclaimed that wheelchair "pushers" were available to give kids a push up the steep parts. And strategically located juice stands and colorful ribbons for every competitor made the day a joyous one for most of the children.
As one youngster fondled the first-place ribbon he had won in the 50-meter dash, a teacher told him the track was still "burining" from his feet.
"It is?" exclaimed the little boy in disbelief, taking a quick look at the the track just to make sure.