Bonds form at Lee County Special Olympics track meet

Reporter: Nicole Gabe Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:

Students from all walks of life are running for a purpose: Inclusion.

Special Olympics athletes paired up with “partners” on Tuesday for the Lee County Middle School Unified Track Meet at South Fort Myers High School.

Ten Lee County middle schools – 160 students – participated in the meet, with lifelong friendships formed on the track.

“It’s to know that everybody can be an athlete, and I think for many of them it’s the friendships,” said Shannon Richardson, teacher and Unified track coach.

Unified Track Meet coordinator Don Payne also said the relationships formed there matter.

“When you as a team work out, train, practice, strategize together and then you get to compete together, that’s where long-lasting relationships are developed.”

The kids are happy and the teachers are ecstatic.

“Oh my goodness, I am ecstatic with the entire event. From the organization to the energy from all the teams, to our fans in the crowd,” said teacher and Unified coach Laurie Mansfield.

Gabriel DeCastro and Tatiana Joseph, students who volunteered to help with the event, believe days like this make an impact on everyone.

“Being those role models helps us be better leaders,” Tatiana said.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Gabriel.

“It goes way beyond just one moment in time,” Richardson said.  “It’s a lifetime relationship and understanding that difference should be celebrated.”

Tuesday’s Unified meet is one in a series at Lee County schools.

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