Dorita Campbell, 27, held her gold medal high as she proclaimed to her employer, "See! I told you I could do it."

Campbell, who works as a messenger for the President's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped, had just won the 25-meter freestyle race at the 19th annual D.C. Special Olympics' Summer Games held Friday and Saturday at Gallaudet University. It did not matter that she swam the distance mostly underwater. She had participated and that was the most important accomplishment.

"She was really stroking. I had never seen her swim that fast or that far underwater," said her surrogate parent, Juanita Campbell, a chairwoman of the Special Olympics' family advisory committee.

This year's Summer Games, with 832 participants, included 56 competitions in track and field, wheelchair races, team soccer, nine events in gymnastics and 16 events in swimming. Everybody won something. Medals went to the first three winners and ribbons to fourth- to sixth-place finishers.

Lightning forced postponement of the Summer Games' relay races. They will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Bishop John Carroll High School, 4300 Harewood Rd. NE.

"Our high school age Special Olympians might be as fast as someone on a high school team. They could compete in high school competitions and do well," said Steve Mason, director of programs and training for D.C. Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics provide an international year-round physical fitness, sports training and athletic competition program for mentally retarded people 8 years of age or older. The oldest participant in the District's Summer Games this year was Edith Demetro, 69. She won first place in the softball throw and placed fourth in the 50-meter run.

The purpose of the Special Olympics, which serves more than 1 million people worldwide, is to contribute to the participants' physical, social, psychological and intellectual development, officials say. The organization emphasizes participation in the events as well as winning the contests, according to officials.

The Special Olympics began in 1968 with a national meet for 1,000 athletes sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and the Chicago Park District. The Downtown Jaycees began the District of Columbia Special Olympics the next year. The nonprofit agency is affiliated with Special Olympics International and the Kennedy Foundation.

Maj. Ed Brodie of the U.S. Park Police is among the 1,200 volunteers who helped with the Summer Games. His job is to hand out the medals. "Some athletes hold onto my arms saying, 'I won you.' They're not sure why they're here but they know they won something . . . . We see positive aspects of people working together for a unified goal."

"Their moments of exultation are uncontrollable," said volunteer Beth Van Houghton. "They throw their arms around me and hang on as long as they want. It feels wonderful."

Christine Sutton, whose daughter Wendy, 16, was a contestant, said: "The games are nice because they help the mentally retarded students develop more as adults. Wendy's here communicating with others not in special education. She's happy with other children out here and is communicating well with them."

The games last weekend did not always go as planned. Instead of having seven games played at the same time, Howard University's head soccer coach, Keith Tucker, designed a kick-about with a mixture of junior and senior team members on the soccer field because some teams never showed up.

"We're not as organized as we want to be. Everyone is trying his best. It's part of life that not everything goes the way people want," Tucker explained.

"Everyone is learning patience. Everyone has to take his own time to learn something. I've seen how patient the organizers are. They have to say things five or six times but they're still smiling," Tucker said.

Danny Bellamy of the D.C. Department of Recreation is a track coach at the Summer Games. He sees "kids make minor progress. They don't get recognized for minor accomplishments all year, but today they do. During the year there's nothing on this scope or size for them."

Gymnast Germaine Payne, 19, who graduated this week from Dunbar Senior High School, is among 41 District residents who will represent the city in the Summer Special Olympics Games, the world's largest sporting event for people with mental retardation, which are held every four years. The games will be July 31 through Aug. 8 in South Bend, Ind.

Her attendance at the International Games will meet a goal she established two years ago. "I do my best out there," she said.