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