1,500 Special Olympians inspire, compete at GCU
Story by Cooper Nelson
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University donated use of several of its facilities over the weekend for the Special Olympics Arizona 2014 Summer Games.
The event marked the 39th year for the statewide athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and was the first Special Olympics games held at GCU’s Phoenix campus.
Nearly 1,500 athletes, ages eight and older from across Arizona, arrived on campus Thursday evening to compete in events such as track, volleyball and powerlifting, among others. Tennis and kayaking were held off campus at the Phoenix Tennis Center and Tempe Town Lake. In addition to athletic competitions, a dance and athletes’ dinner were held near the end of the four-day Summer Games.
The Games provided more than competition. Athletes were encouraged to visit the Olympic Village on Mariposa Lawn between events for face-painting, inflatable jump houses, carnival-style games and merchandise vendors. The Special Olympics offered free health screenings to athletes, ranging from dental and vision to podiatry and psychological evaluations, in the College of Arts and Sciences building. Meals also were provided to athletes in the Student Union.
More than 150 GCU students and staff joined nearly 2,000 Special Olympics employees and volunteers to facilitate the events and support the athletes. Nursing students and sports medicine personnel assisted with health screenings. Faculty and staff members handed out water and helped award medals. The baseball, men’s volleyball, men’s lacrosse and softball teams also volunteered at competitions throughout the weekend.
Christal Davis-Carter, a military enrollment counselor in GCU’s Peoria office, felt inspired to volunteer Saturday to hand out medals to event winners. Her 13-year-old son, Cameron, is autistic and hopes to enter the Special Olympics next year.
“I love that we’re a school that is so connected to the community and its needs, and has a heart to serve,” Davis-Carter said. “It’s the best feeling, and I’m blessed to have been a part of such a joyous event and lend a hand to such an amazing organization.”
The event also included an inspirational opening ceremony Friday morning on GCU’s soccer field. Hundreds of athletes paraded onto the field to cheers from family and friends. Almost 100 local police officers carried the “Flame of Hope” nearly seven miles from downtown to the University’s west Phoenix campus as part of the traditional Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Daniel Archer of Bullhead City competed in the Special Olympics the past four years and helped light the Olympic flame for the 2014 games. He won the 2013 Most-Inspirational Athlete Award for his services in the community. Archer said he was impressed by GCU.
“(GCU hosting this event) means a lot,” said Archer, 24. “If you win or if you lose it’s about the experience, which has been great. We’re all just here to have fun and (GCU) helped that.”
GCU has a history with the Special Olympics. The University’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee hosted athletes for a bowling and pizza party earlier this year. The men’s soccer team presented a skills clinic, and the men’s volleyball team invited athletes to hold a volleyball demonstration during intermission of a game earlier this season.
Jamie Heckerman, director of training and competition for Special Olympics Arizona, said athletes and their families provided positive feedback about GCU as a host site.
“Everyone has been so nice and welcoming,” Heckerman said. “Athletes have said it’s the best meals they’ve had and some of the most fun they’ve had. I’ve heard nothing but good things from our coaches.”
GCU Athletics Program Director Jeff Fore had helped bring the Special Olympics to Mesa Community College from ASU in 2009. He joined GCU last summer and was integral in bringing the Games to campus this year.
Fore said GCU’s servant leadership foundation fits perfectly with the mission of Special Olympics.
“I think (hosting this event) speaks to what we are about as servant leaders and a Christian institution,” Fore said. “It’s really a fantastic event and something I am happy we were able to bring to Grand Canyon University.”
Contact Cooper Nelson at 602.639.7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.