Dane Harding is an athlete.
He enjoys all sports. He relishes the competition. His smile radiates both confidence and pure joy.
On Wednesday, that grin was on full display in College Park, as were those of nearly 30 other athletes, as the Maryland track & field team welcomed members of the Prince George’s County Special Olympics program to Kehoe Track.
Maryland student-athletes trained the group at five different stations including high jump, turbo javelin, shot put, long jump and sprints. With high fives flying and spirits soaring, the Terps provided detailed instruction to the Special Olympic athletes for over an hour on a picturesque fall day.
“I love the shot put, 100 meter and long jump,” Harding, a self-proclaimed diehard Terp fan, said. “They teach us technique. We met a lot of new friends. I think we challenge them too.”
Trish Miles, an adaptive physical education teacher and the area director for Prince George’s County Special Olympics, spoke highly of the relationship forged between Special Olympics and Maryland student-athletes and coaches.
“They are out here having a great time,” Miles said. “Even though some of our students have intellectual disabilities, you don’t see it here. They are friends among friends. We’ve built this relationship over the last three years and it’s going strong. I give credit to the University of Maryland athletes because they come out each year and have a good time with our kids.”
The Terps’ advice was both inspiring and challenging; a characteristic Miles says helps empower the Special Olympic athletes.
“They get to mirror what the Maryland athletes do, or at least they attempt to. They are always encouraging them even though they are a little tough on them, but that’s what we want.”
The Prince George’s County Special Olympics program offers 12 sports split into three athletic seasons, including powerlifting, golf, cycling, soccer, skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, basketball, track & field, bocce, softball and swimming.
“I think the best part is being able to bring joy through simple acts. It’s something I love to do,” junior Thea LaFond said during a short break from training athletes at the high jump mat. “I’m happy I’m able to share it with people who are equally excited. They are a great bunch of kids to have around. Their energy is always up. They love the time we spend with them and it’s amazing."
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for persons eight years of age and older with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in sharing of gifts, skills and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.
For more information on Special Olympics and how to get involved, please click here.
The Maryland track & field team begins its indoor season at Penn State Jan. 11.