ELYRIA — When the starting whistle blared across the track Friday morning at Ely Stadium signifying the start of another race, 17-year-old Sarah Briner began running with all her might — brown hair flopping in the wind and a smile on her face.
She was doing great and on her way to a first-place finish until she spotted her sister, Emily Briner, standing along the track. Sarah couldn’t do anything but slow down and wave. It may have cost her the top spot in the 50-yard dash, but when you are competing in the Special Olympics, it’s not all about winning.
“I think I was a distraction, but that is just how my sister is and I love her,” Emily said. “I just told her to keep running until she is done.”
Sarah is a special-needs student at Elyria High School while Emily is her typically developing sibling. Yet, the bond the two girls have was evident to everyone in the stands who watched Sarah forgo winning to wave to her biggest cheerleader.
“It was fun,” Sarah said after the race before having a ribbon pinned to her chest. “It’s kind of a feet rush.”
Special Olympics, which kicked off its 33rd year with a marching band opening and ceremonial torch lighting, is not all about ribbons and medals — although you can tell the athletes will cherish those, too.
The daylong event pulled students from numerous schools in the county including Amherst, Avon, Avon Lake, Columbia, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, Midview, Oberlin, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake, Wellington and the Lorain County Joint Vocational School.
“These kids just want to be here,” said assistant local coordinator Andrew Menner. “To understand what I am talking about, you have to stand at the end by the finish line and watch them cross that line. The pure happiness on their faces can melt the hardest heart.”
Amanda Ashmun, a 13-year-old Midview student, was barely across the finish line after completing a leg of the 25-meter assisted walk race when she screamed with delight. Still seated in her special three-wheeled bicycle, Amanda exclaimed, “I did it. I did it,” as she neared her teacher, Cale Lariccia.
“I rode my bike and I did great,” she said.
Lariccia said Amanda spent the past four months preparing for Special Olympics. Besides the race, she participated in two other events — the tennis ball throw and bean bag throw.
“She has come a long way in terms of where she is today to where she was when we started,” he said. “We are so proud of her and her effort.”
A red ribbon was pinned to her chest, but Amanda wanted something more in terms of a prize, showing that all 13-year-olds think alike.
“I did great. No homework,” Amanda said, giving a less than subtle hint to Lariccia.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.