West Orange High School student Shelby Forester has been chosen to compete in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in Princeton, N.J., on June 14-21 as a member of Team Florida for track and field. The competition takes place every four years and includes athletes from all over the country.
“It is very unique and quite an honor to be chosen,” said Laurie Chmielewski, sports director for Orange County Special Olympics.
In the upcoming national games, Forester will compete in the 100-meter and 400-meter run, as well as the 4x400 relay with other athletes in his division from states around the country. He is one of four runners on his team, called “legs,” who will each race 400 meters before passing the baton on to the next runner.
Forester hopes to win gold or silver but is confident that his team can come in first. He will be the team “anchor,” the last runner in his race – an honor Forester accepts with pride. It is up to him to run as fast as he can to bring his team to victory and catch up to the other teams if they are ahead.
“I am most excited about when I win first place in my relay at the finish line,” Forester said. “I’m doing it for my coaches, my mom and my family.”
Forester has been involved in track and field in Orange County for about four years and has competed in both area and state game competitions. He is training as part of the local Special Olympics program in Orange County and has additional practice to prepare for the USA Games. He also participates in basketball and bowling during other times of the year.
“Shelby is a great representative for Orange County,” Chmielewski said. “He has great energy, great teamwork, and we are very proud he is representing us.”
Chmielewski works closely with Forester and many other athletes, coaches and volunteers in the program. She believes Forester is a wonderful ambassador for Team Florida, as well. The Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual disabilities. The organization provides a place of acceptance, belonging and a sense of accomplishment for the athletes,
with the community and fans cheering by their side.
Although the 2014 games will focus on competition, it is the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, the special events and the educational programs offered that really help make a difference in each athlete’s life, creating a place where they feel respected and honored throughout the week. Not only does the competition change the lives of the athletes, their families and the volunteers, it also sends a message to the community to promote understanding and acceptance.
“[Forester] has great pride in representing Florida and his self confidence has really increased. His technique and stamina has increased, too, from an athletic standpoint,” said Chmielewski. “To see [the athletes] get healthier and faster and stronger, it just brings me so much joy.”
The local Orange County program, the Renegades, practices at the West Orange High School track and field once a week for three to five hours with trained coaches. Forester puts in extra practice at the Lakeview Middle School track and at home. He focuses on eating right, stretching and staying healthy overall. During his training, Forester works on his starts and finishes, practices his runs and relay for the big event and does plyometric stretching to keep his legs in good shape.
Athletes are selected for the national USA Games by a random draw. Those who won a silver or gold medal at the state games the previous year were entered into the drawing and separated into divisions according to their ability. Divisions are determined based on preliminary race times prior to the main event and are further divided according to age and gender. An athlete from each division is selected to compete in the national games.
Last year, Forester won a silver medal at the State Championship in the 200-meter run.
Special Olympics Orange County serves athletes ages 8 and older and provides sports competition and training all year round. The program is always looking for sponsors to help send the participants to championships and support training and education.
The upcoming Special Olympics in New Jersey is an expense outside of the Special Olympics Orange County budget and must be fundraised. The program is currently selling rubber wristbands that read “Team Florida Special Olympics” for $5 to help raise money for the event, and also accepts any extra donations. Donations can be sent to Special Olympics Orange County, 3130 Edgewater Drive, Orlando, 32804.
To get involved with Special Olympics Orange County or to volunteer, call Laurie Chmielewski at 407-317-3908, Ext. 6284522, or email [email protected]. Those interested can also contact Charlotte Day at 407-317-3908, Ext. 6284543, or email [email protected].