CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Special Olympics Summer Games started Friday in Charleston and nearly 600 athletes from around the state are coming to play, socialize and have fun throughout the weekend.

Director of Sports and Training, Kendra Wallace, said that the participants coming are looking forward to all the activities that the event will offer.

Olympic Village at the 2018 West Virginia Special Olympics Summer Games

“Well obviously a lot of them loving doing karaoke and then getting the medals and getting to see their friends from other counties,” she said.

The athletes will get to compete in sports such as swimming, golf, tennis, track and field, corn hole, bocce and softball, and for many of those competing, there is no greater joy than having the chance to play and be recognized for their personal achievements. This summer’s games will also feature a new event.

“We’re doing the “Switz Skills Challenge”, and it’s a unified event with some school-aged kids and then our athletes getting together and just doing different combine drills, and then Ryan Switzer is obviously going to be there and some other celebrity coaches,” Wallace said.

In order to have the event be so successful, the Special Olympics relies heavily upon volunteers. Donna Jarrell has been a volunteer for nearly 40 years, and she loves every minute of the time she spends with the special-needs children competing.

“I have a daughter that has Down syndrome, and she’s 44-years-old, and I’ve been involved, and that’s where my heart is at, and I’ve just done it all my life,” she said. “It just comes natural.”

Jarrell will be part of a group of over 200 volunteers working throughout the weekend to make the games a hit and she recommends anyone who is thinking about volunteering to do it.

Carrie Hodousek/MetroNews

Two participants during the 2016 games pose for a picture during a game. 

“When you get involved in it, people think you just volunteer one day or whatever, but it’s a lifetime thing,” she said.

Jarrell’s daughter used to compete in the games when she was younger, so she knows firsthand what the Special Olympics mean to those involved.

“This is what they look forward to. We have four state games and then they have a county game, but on state level they look forward to coming,” she said. “Socializing is their big thing. The sports, the activities all that’s good, too, but the karaoke, the dancing, the dance at nighttime, staying in a hotel, they get to share with others, and they don’t see any difference in each other.”

SOWV works to make the summer games fulfilling for all the kids and adults who participate, and Jarrell says that they are extremely appreciative.

“There’s no boundaries with their love. They love everybody and hugs, and if they meet you this year, they’ll know you next year, so it means the world to them,” she said. “This is their day. This is what they get to do.”

One thing that Jarrell would like people to know is that having a child with a disability is nothing to pity; in fact she celebrates having a daughter with Downs.

“These kids are blessings, because God gives them things, sweetness and honesty and love, that we don’t have, because we have worldly problems and jealousies, and our kids don’t have that,” she said. “They’re just pure love and pure honesty, and they’re pure all the way through. They have no enemies.”

The Summer Games are still taking volunteers for this weekend and those interested can visit www.sowv.org for more information.

Story by Jordyn Johnson

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