Editorial: Community extending the warmth

Feb. 12, 2014 @ 11:06 PM

Some of the happiest people in the world are seen regularly competing in Special Olympics.

On a cold Saturday morning at Kerr Lake, they just might have met their match. The exuberance was contagious. Smiles were everywhere. Excitement was as much for the thought of jumping into cold water as it was for the pledge to help Special Olympics Vance County.

Turnout was greater than the inaugural Polar Plunge, including those taking a step, leap or mighty splash into Kerr Lake. It was a frightful 39 degrees in the water and 34 in the air.

It really was warm once they got in.

And that’s a resonating message from volunteers as well. Over and over in conversation, when asked about their work, volunteers described connections with the athletes that are as unique as any other relationship.

Special Olympians are not just children. They are also adults, those with intellectual disabilities. The term describes a person with skills and cognitive functioning limitations. It might include communication and self-care. They develop and learn more slowly, or differently.

But they love on us just as would anyone else we meet.

“Once you meet our athletes, you start caring about them pretty soon so you really do want to do something crazy like jump in the lake for them,” said Julie Allred, the program coordinator with the Henderson-Vance Recreation Department.

Support was overwhelming at the Polar Plunge. Asked if those jumping in the lake might have nervousness akin to athletes about to compete in the Special Olympics, Sgt. Angela Feingold of the Henderson Police Department paused and chuckled just a bit.

“I think we’re probably we’re more nervous than they are,” said the volunteer of more than two decades. “I love the athletes.”

David Bennett of the Darkside Motorcycle Club, which brought the largest team to jump in, said the athletes could be because more people would be watching them.

The day was successful for money raised, awareness created and support extended.

“Everybody feels good knowing that we did our little part to help out,” Bennett said.

So true. Practically effortless. Just a few minutes and dollars, a jump in the lake, and then scurrying for warmth.

The athletes have that and then some.