West Point celebrates the athletes at Special Olympics

Story and photos by Brandon O’Connor Assistant editor

May 9th, 2019 | News, News and Features
 More than 1,000 athletes competed in the 44th annual Hudson Valley Region Special Olympics at West Point May 4. The athletes competed in track and field, swimming, power lifting and adaptive events during the games.
 .S. Military Academy Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Love gives a high five to an athlete as cadets walk with the athletes prior to the 44th annual Hudson Valley Region Special Olympics hosted at West Point.
 A member of the Thunder Bolts dashes to the finish line during a track event at the Special Olympics.

The excitement was palpable. With one attempt left in the bench press, the athlete dubbed “Mr. USA” paused for a moment, pointed to the sky and let the entire crowd know exactly what was on the line.
“This one’s for you grandma,” he said as he leaned back, put two hands on the bar and prepared to take his final rep.
With members of the Army Powerlifting team spotting on the sides, he took control of the weight and in one smooth motion brought the bar down to his chest and exploded with every muscle in his upper body to hoist it back in the air.
After the bar was placed back on the rack, he launched from the bench with all the energy of a coiled spring, let loose a yell of pure excitement and took a lap slapping high fives with his fellow competitors.
In that moment, the medals that would be given out later didn’t matter.
Whether he had earned a spot atop the podium or would not be on it at all, he had accomplished the ultimate goal of each of the more than 1,000 Special Olympics athletes who converged at the U.S. Military Academy May 4. He was brave in the attempt and he gave it his all.
Saturday’s event marked the 44th annual Hudson Valley Region Special Olympics hosted at West Point. Starting with the parade of athletes and torch run in the morning, the day was full of activity as the athletes competed in track and field, swimming, powerlifting and adaptive events.
“I think there is no better place in the world to put on the Special Olympics than West Point. What makes it special is not only the atmosphere and what we bring physically, but the cadets and the spirit we bring,” Class of 2020 Cadet Brendan Brown, the cadet-in- charge of Special Olympics, said. “This is us trying to serve the greater community in a way that we don’t often get the opportunity to. Watching them come out for the parade of athletes, it seemed like it wasn’t going to end … It was awe inspiring and humbling.”
The annual event is hosted by the West Point chapter of Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership honor society. The event came together with support from more than 1,300 members of the Corps of Cadets including corps squad athletes who helped to run many of the individual events, including the swimming and diving and powerlifting teams lending their expert knowledge to make sure their events were safe and went off without a hitch.
“This is what we work for all year,” Nick Cooper, coach for the Highland Huskies, said of the event. “This is one of the best days of their life. It is a huge honor to be here. I am the coach, so I try to guide everybody as much as I can, but you can’t get that one on one. With the cadets here, they are giving that one on one experience, so the kids are absolutely getting the attention, the motivation and the support they need to do the best they can.”
The event at West Point also allows for every competitor to be paired one on one with a cadet who spends the entire day cheering them on, helping them find their events and building a new friendship.
“He embodied pure happiness. It is the most pure form of happiness I have ever seen,” Class of 2022 Cadet Ransom Redman said of seeing his athlete win a race. “Spending the whole day with him and not just a group, you get to see what his family is like and how he responds.”