Rashawn Young and Wallace Gamble have spent the past decade perfecting their equestrian skills. Their hard work has finally paid off in a big way.
Young of Hilton Head Island and Gamble of Bluffton recently returned from Athens, Greece, where they represented Team USA at the Special Olympics World Summer Games from June 25 to July 4.
The young men paired up to win gold medals in the two-person team relay. They brought home bronze medals in English Equitation. And they both placed in the working trail competition -- Gamble took fourth place, and Young came in fifth. The competitions involved riding and maneuvering a horse through an obstacle course, using different gaits, halting, making circles and doing figure eights on command.
"It felt real good inside," Young said about winning the medals. "We had to work hard for it."
Young and Gamble have participated in Special Olympics for as long as they can remember. The international organization provides year-round training and competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. And the two men have trained with the nonprofit therapeutic riding program Heroes on Horseback for about 10 years. They were two of 10 Special Olympics athletes from the U.S. who competed in the equestrian events in Athens.
To qualify for the international games, athletes must display good sportsmanship, work well with others and do well traveling to competitions. They also must have won a gold medal at a state Special Olympics competition. Young and Gamble are previous state gold medal winners. If a gold winner is not able to travel, the organization looks for an athlete who fits the other criteria and has won a silver or bronze medal, Special Olympics South Carolina vice president of communications and programs Sue Maner said.
Young, who served as captain of the U.S. equestrian team, said he had a great time in Greece and learned a lot about the culture.
"I learned that they drive real fast over there," he said with a laugh. "I loved their food."
The 21-year-old athlete graduated from Hilton Head Island High School in June and works in the hospitality industry on Hilton Head. Gamble, 20, will be a senior at Bluffton High School in the fall.
"I am so proud of them," Maner said. "And I'm equally proud of the fun times they had (in Greece). Every time I saw them they had big smiles on their faces."
Maner isn't the only one beaming with pride over the athletes' success. People they've worked with at Special Olympics and Heroes on Horseback and even the mayor of Hilton Head are impressed with their recent wins. Mayor Drew Laughlin will present commendations to Gamble and Young at the Aug. 2 Town Council meeting.
"Wallace and Rashawn ... are such fine young men," Maner said. "I'm just so thankful for the opportunity to be able to work with them."