The 2013 Hudson Valley Regional Special Olympics
Annual spring games draw thousands to West Point
lex Rider raised the medal with both hands over his head and celebrated with his family and friends. The 14-year-old West Point community member had just finished the 100-meter race at Shea Stadium May 4 during the 2013 Hudson Valley Regional Special Olympics and was savoring the moment.
This was his fourth spring games and his mom, Barbara, said he’s made a lot of progress since his first meet.
“Personally, of all the places we’ve been stationed at, never had we experienced so many students and staff provide so much support,” she said. “They have all gone out of their way to teach him and help him and he’s thrived like you can’t imagine.”
Even among more than 750 athletes and countless more coaches, cadet sponsors, escorts and supporters, it wasn’t hard to spot “Team Alex.” Wearing bright yellow West Point T-shirts, his entourage followed him to his races and lined the side of the track to cheer him on.
“It’s really incredible how they’ve helped him get out of his box, and they do so much to make him and other students feel included,” Barbara said.
Last year, Alex’s father, Lt. Col. Thomas Rider, was deployed in Afghanistan during the games but was able to attend this year. Those who coach and support Alex and other West Point Special Olympians include Tre Corrigan, Danny Peck, Jackson Waugh and Abi Pendergraft from West Point Elementary School; Amalee Keunemany, Bianca Sierra, Chloe Schretzman, Devin Donnell, Haley Boydstun, Kelsie Martin, Mona Adams, Morgan Markout and Simra Flakes from West Point Middle School.
Sydney Shannon and Grant Nawoichyk have both been training with Alex since they were first allowed to coach in the fourth grade. Grant said it took some time before Alex accepted his help. But once that bond was made, Alex has been happy to have Grant and the others around.
“It took a couple years before I really got to know him, but Alex has always been very nice and helpful and very, very funny,” Grant said.
Class of 2014 Cadet David Jerome just met Alex that morning as his cadet sponsor. Jerome got the sense right away that Alex was motivated to be at the meet.
“Alex cares a lot about this and you can tell by his attitude,” Jerome said. “He’s just a nice kid to be around.”
More than 1,000 cadets from 4th Regiment volunteered to sponsor athletes during the games, which were presented by Omicron Delta Kappa, the National Leadership Honor Society. In addition, about a dozen corps squad teams and clubs also supported the event held on the track and inside Gillis Field House and the Arvin Cadet Physical Development Center.
“It’s truly an amazing experience,” Class of 2013 Cadet Matthew Walsh, the cadet-in-charge, said. “It’s inspiring for the cadets and an opportunity for these athletes to get to know about West Point and spend the day with us.”
At times it sounded like the entire Corps was cheering the Olympians, but Walsh said that was just indicative of the cadets’ enthusiasm for the Special Olympics.
“As soon as they meet the athletes, it’s nothing but smiles and good times the whole day,” Walsh said. “They love the event and it’s always a great day for everyone.”
The regional games also serves as a memorial in honor of Capt. Andrew Houghton, a U.S. Military Academy Class of 2001 graduate who had once served as the cadet-in-charge for this event. Houghton died in 2004 while deployed in Iraq.
Since 2007, an award in his name has been presented to one Special Olympian who best exemplifies the spirit of “Let me be brave in the attempt.”
Houghton’s father, George, presented the award this year to Marcos Davila who has competed in Special Olympics for a decade and represents the Anderson Center for Autism in Staatsburgh, N.Y.