Beaufort News

Special Olympians experience the thrill of victory while inspiring others

Before the official could say "go," Eddie Potter was already pumping both fists in the air, and friends and fans were chanting his name.

The fist pumping continued throughout the 10-meter race, growing in intensity the closer he got to the finish line.

Potter, 16, has cerebral palsy and cognitive impairments. He placed second during Friday's annual Special Olympics track and field event at the Hilton Head Island High School football stadium.

"That's a brand new wheelchair, and we've already had to tighten it down because he gets so excited. He likes to rock 'n' roll," said Graci Finkle, Potter's teacher at Robert Smalls Middle School in Beaufort.

About 150 students from 15 schools across Beaufort and Jasper counties participated in the event, supported by more than 300 volunteers, including Army and Navy Junior ROTC members from Hilton Head Island and Bluffton high schools. Those who participated Friday could qualify for state competition.

Samantha Briscoe, 16, a junior at Hilton Head Island High School, has been working with Potter at Special Olympic events the past two years.

The two have become inseparable. Briscoe said she's awed by Potter's excitement and constant enthusiasm.

"He's the life of the party," she said as a line of spectators and volunteers walked by to give the smiling teen high-fives. "Seeing him get excited when he got a ribbon for the tennis-ball throw was the greatest thing I've seen."

Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition for those with intellectual disabilities to help them develop physical fitness, realize athletic achievements and form friendships with other athletes, volunteers and families.

More important, Friday's event was a reminder not to take life and its blessing for granted, said Rose Fotia, founder of the Children's Relief Fund. It also is an opportunity for athletes and their parents -- if only for a moment -- to take their minds off their daily struggles, Fotia said.

The nonprofit organization raises money to pay for therapy, equipment, summer camps and other expenses for children with special needs. The group raised $55,000 for Special Olympics to help pay for local events, including Friday's competition.

"It gives the kids more freedom and a sense of belonging," Fotia said. "It's an opportunity for them to shine and gain self-esteem, and an opportunity for the rest of us to find inspiration, gain perspective about our own lives and help out. For the parents, it's a chance to see their child excel in a setting where their impairments are not seen as a disability. And everyone has fun."