By JEFFREY POWELL
Later this summer in Athens, Greece more than 7,500 athletes from 185 countries around the world will converge on the most historic site in the history of Olympic sport for the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games. This gathering will be the largest sporting event of the year. The games are a celebration of the abilities and accomplishments of people with intellectual challenges and hopefully a renewed acceptance of the athletes places in the world community.
For two local athletes the games will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to the birthplace of the Olympic games and compete amongst their peers. The fact that Walton County has two participants is, in a way, a victory even before the competition begins.
“We have not had anyone participate in the international games since 1983, much less two athletes,” said Assistant Walton County Special Olympics Coordinator Louise Guice-Conner. “Patty and Greg are just that good. We worked very hard to get where we are at, we are very proud of them.”
Before the pair fly to Greece they will go to California to train and prepare to attend the International Games. Neither of them have taken such a long plane ride but trust that being together will bring them strength. For Patty Douglass this will be her 41st year competing in the Special Olympics. She will compete in the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000-meter races.
“I like running very much. I have tried other sports but running is my favorite,” Douglass said proudly. “In the beginning I did not win much but now I win most of the events I enter. I leave the other women behind.”
Confidence is something these two athletes share. They both know they are among the best in their respective fields but unlike many modern day athletes there is no bravado in their confident words. They realize it was hard work and practice that allow them to participate on the world’s stage. For Greg Floyd, who participates in several bocce ball events, the challenge of playing against the best Special Olympians is a challenge he is ready for.
“I have a good attitude and there is no stopping me when it comes to bocce ball. I am constantly training and I want to go up against the best,” said Floyd. “I want to see what I have. Bocce ball takes flexibility and skill and you have to use your head, it is easy to mess up.”
A common thread between these two athletes is their appreciation for the people that helped them get where they are. Both of them credit their mothers for spending countless hours with them and being patient with their dreams.
“I know my momma is proud of me,” Floyd said. “I also want to thank Louise (Guice-Conner) for everything she has done. I cannot wait to see all these places and share what I see with others.”