Suffolk hosts Special Olympics

Published 11:30 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Area 29 bocce team celebrates after receiving its medals during the recent Special Olympics Area 29 Suffolk Games at YMCA Camp Arrowhead.

The Area 29 bocce team celebrates after receiving its medals during the recent Special Olympics Area 29 Suffolk Games at YMCA Camp Arrowhead.

Two things were special about these games — the athletes and the venue where they competed.

The inaugural Special Olympics Area 29 Suffolk Games recently gave athletes from Suffolk and around the state the opportunity to compete in different events and qualify for competition in the 2013 Summer Games in Richmond.

For the first time, the Suffolk Games were held at YMCA Camp Arrowhead.

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Formerly known as the Suffolk Bar-Bender, featuring powerlifting, the Suffolk Games represents a new iteration of the event, with bocce and swimming events in addition to weightlifting. Frank Zielinski, the coordinator for Area 29, the local Special Olympics chapter, was particularly pleased with how the event proceeded at the new venue.

“The YMCA was gracious enough to donate their whole area, their whole complex to us,” he said.

Zielinski thanked YMCA district vice president Rick Matthews and Camp Arrowhead operations director Matt Lewis, as Area 29 was able to make use of the pool for swim events and the field and facilities for bocce and powerlifting competitions.

“Their whole organization helped us out 100 percent,” Zielinski said.

About 150 athletes participated, many coming from Virginia Beach, Hampton, Northern Virginia and Richmond.

“What’s really neat is that it brings athletes to Suffolk, which is something I really like to do,” Zielinski said. “I like to expose our city. And then the competition between all the athletes with the swimming events, the bocce and the weightlifting was really nice.”

The Suffolk athletes were eligible for more than just first place. To qualify for the Summer Games, they had to successfully participate in two different tournaments. The Camp Arrowhead event was the second for Area 29 team members.

Zielinski used swimming as an example to explain what athletes needed to show judges to enable them to advance.

“They had to pretty much master their swim,” he said. “They kind of have to know what they’re doing. Whether it’s first, second or third place, they have to be able to swim in that event.”

While the goal for athletes is to simply do their best, Zielinski said that the contestants still enjoy the challenge posed by competition.

“I can tell you a lot of the athletes do like to compete, and they do like to win,” he said.

The YMCA was not the only organization that helped make the day special for participants.

“Lakeland High School’s band and their majorettes and color guard came over and played for us in the morning for the opening ceremonies,” he said.

“And then we had a representative from the Suffolk Police Department, Capt. (Robert) Ross… because the police department does the torch run for Special Olympics,” he said.

After this year’s successful Suffolk Games, Zielinski sees a bright future for the event.

“I think next year is just going to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” he said.

The Area 29 team will head to Richmond for the 2013 Summer Games on June 7-8.


Swim results by athlete for Area 29 in the Suffolk Games were as follows:

(Athletes with the same placement in a given event were competing in separate heats based on skill level.)

  • Kelsey Byrd: 2nd, 25-meter backstroke; 1st, 25-meter breaststroke; 2nd, 100-meter freestyle
  • Whitney Fore: 1st, 15-meter (unassisted)
  • Jesús Godinez: 1st, 25-meter freestyle; 3rd, 25-meter backstroke
  • Larry Graham: 3rd, 25-meter freestyle
  • Jennifer Hilton: 2nd, 25-meter breaststroke; 2nd, 25-meter backstroke; 3rd, 25-meter freestyle
  • Micheal Norman: 1st, 25-meter freestyle; 1st, 25-meter backstroke
  • Jeremy Orrel: 4th, 25-meter backstroke; 2nd, 25-meter freestyle
  • Vincent Rodgers: 1st, 10-meter (assisted)
  • Eathan Smith: 2nd, 50-meter freestyle; 1st, 25-meter backstroke; 1st, 25-meter breaststroke
  • Eric Taylor: 2nd, 25-meter freestyle
  • Ian Wolfe: 1st, 25-meter breaststroke; 1st, 25-meter freestyle; 1st, 25-meter backstroke