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Game of Golds

Today, exactly one year ago, I was at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. This year I attended the not much less spectacular Game of Golds, a.k.a. the Special Olympics Maryland Summer Games. They took place at Towson University in Towson, Md. from Friday, June 7 through Sunday, June 9. Here are some of my favorite moments:

Opening Ceremony in SECU Arena at Towson University, MD on Friday, June 7, 2019. Over the course of three days 1500 athletes and Unified Partners will compete in athletics, softball, cheerleading, bocce or swimming.

Opening Ceremony in SECU Arena at Towson University, MD on Friday, June 7, 2019. Over the course of three days 1500 athletes and Unified Partners will compete in athletics, softball, cheerleading, bocce or swimming.

Two athletes carry the Olympic torch to its final destination in front of Unitas Stadium at Towson University, MD at the end of the Opening Ceremony. They are surrounded by Law Enforcement Torch Runners and athletes. The torch will remain lit until the Summer Games are completed.

Two athletes carry the Olympic torch to its final destination in front of Unitas Stadium at Towson University, MD at the end of the Opening Ceremony. They are surrounded by Law Enforcement Torch Runners and athletes. The torch will remain lit until the Summer Games are completed.

An athlete rejoices upon completion of the 50 meter freestyle event in the pool of Burdick Hall at Towson University, MD on Friday June 7, 2019.

An athlete rejoices upon completion of the 50 meter freestyle event in the pool of Burdick Hall at Towson University, MD on Friday June 7, 2019.

High jumper successfully completes a challenging jump at Unitas Stadium , Towson University, MD on Sunday June 9, 2019.

High jumper successfully completes a challenging jump at Unitas Stadium , Towson University, MD on Sunday June 9, 2019.

Athlete giving it her very best at the long jump event at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Athlete giving it her very best at the long jump event at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Javelin thrower being watched by a volunteer referee at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019. The staging area for all track and field events is top left and the awards area is top right.

Javelin thrower being watched by a volunteer referee at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019. The staging area for all track and field events is top left and the awards area is top right.

Great catch during the final softball game on the Varsity Softball Field at Towson University, MD on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Great catch during the final softball game on the Varsity Softball Field at Towson University, MD on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Howard County coaches and athlete watching the game from the sidelines at the Varsity Softball Field at Towson University on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Howard County coaches and athlete watching the game from the sidelines at the Varsity Softball Field at Towson University on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

A few of the many supporters of the Summer Games at Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 19, 2019.

A few of the many supporters of the Summer Games at Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 19, 2019.

Athletes taking off for the 50 meter dash on the track of Unitas Stadium of Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Athletes taking off for the 50 meter dash on the track of Unitas Stadium of Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Short distance runners on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Short distance runners on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Athlete running the 50 meter dash on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Athlete running the 50 meter dash on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Runner completing the final leg of the 4 x 100 meter relay on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Runner completing the final leg of the 4 x 100 meter relay on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Judges and volunteers applauding a deaf runner at the finish line on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Judges and volunteers applauding a deaf runner at the finish line on the track of Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Athlete high-fiving a law enforcement officer after receiving a silver medal from him in the Awards tent at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Athlete high-fiving a law enforcement officer after receiving a silver medal from him in the Awards tent at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Excited athlete shaking hands with a law enforcement officer upon receiving a 6th place ribbon reading “skill, courage, sharing, joy” in the Awards tent at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Excited athlete shaking hands with a law enforcement officer upon receiving a 6th place ribbon reading “skill, courage, sharing, joy” in the Awards tent at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

A very happy athlete in the Awards tent at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

A very happy athlete in the Awards tent at Unitas Stadium, Towson University, MD. on Sunday, June 9, 2019.

Ben and Kirk

Ben is a Special Olympics athlete who has competed for many, many years in almost every sport the organization has to offer.  Ben is legally blind but once again that didn't stop him from participating in the Special Olympics Super Plunge at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, Md. this year:  plunging every hour for 24 hours, thereby raising money for this incredible charity.  

Ben lives with his mom and he has a cat.  He commutes every day to work in Washington, DC by metro.  He has an incredible memory and can tell you the day of the week for any calendar date.  He is a very strong advocate for people with disabilities.

This year Ben's handler didn't show up at the plunge.  Super plunger Kirk from Tampa, Florida offered to be Ben's eyes and ears for 24 hours.  By all accounts Kirk is considered a true hero.  He guided Ben to the water to plunge and took care of Ben between the plunges.  It was very touching to see the interactions between them and it still warms my heart.

I have seen Ben plunge in previous years but I have never seen him this happy.  Thank you Kirk!  (See Kirk's comments below the photos.)

After this blog was published Kirk wrote this in reply to several comments on his Facebook page:  "Thank you Marleen Van den Neste for the beautiful pictures and write up. I truly hope that Ben was happy, even if he was half as happy to plunge with me as I with him,  I'd be content. Also, the athletes are the only heroes.  I was just doing what every other super plunger does... Folks like Darryl Lee Despeaux who is the Rock and always there for Ben, and Rick Huether and his son Zack who would dig in anytime asked to help anyone - or the king of the plunge tent Don Boyd who gives countless hours of his time to support all - athlete and non-athlete alike. I happened to be at the right place at the right time and was so honored to get to spend time with the real hero Ben Collins."

Ben's personal donation page is:  http://plunge.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1139685&lis=1&kntae1139685=EA82FC89D2FE4AA2915BF3DDE88AF829&supId=108408526&emaillogid=

Kirk's personal donation page is:  http://plunge.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1139685&lis=1&kntae1139685=D4F2B416A8C64850BACFA3C6EA2DCC75&supId=242995520

More Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge photos here:  https://marleenvandenneste.smugmug.com/SpecialOlympics