UPSHUR COUNTY, Texas — Special Olympics athletes in Upshur County are on a high after returning from the 2019 Texas Special Olympics Summer Games held in San Antonio earlier this month.
"[I competed in ] the relay, 400-meter-walk and javelin," Gilmer High School senior, John Allen, said. "'Which one is your favorite?' Javelin."
Allen is one of about 120 athletes in the Upshur County Crew. The group of athletes represents seven school districts in the area. Allen and senior, Felix Walker, are among the 20 athletes to advance to this year's state competition.
"It was fun," Walker said. "You meet people and new friends."
Many of the athletes in the Upshur County Crew have been competing for years. For others, freshman Bailey Loyd, says this is her first time competing in the state competition.
"Special people just have joy and have fun and just have confidence in themselves that most people don't have," Loyd said.
A truth that encouraged sophomore, Jaeden McCarter to sign on as a team assistant for the state games.
"There's competition, but there's also an element of fun that you don't get anywhere else," McCarter said.
However, many of the athletes had no idea their adventures in San Antonio were once at jeopardy.
"With the mileage and the amount that it was going to cost just to get us there as far as feeding the kids and the hotel expenses," Life Skills Coordinator for Upshur County, Amanda Wells, said. "All of that goes into a situation where we needed some extra support."
In October, Special Olympics parent, Tony Duncan started an online fundraiser hoping to receive enough in donations to send every eligible athlete to San Antonio. His son, Casey also competed with the team.
The fundraiser garnered $10,140 in donations.
"Within less than a week, he was able to raise what we needed to be able to get to San Antonio," Wells said. "Going to Morgan's Wonderland and having those opportunities and coming back through the Capitol, it just gives them those great opportunities that they may not have again."
The team was sure to leave their mark, bringing home 38 medals and additional placement ribbons.
"It's a great joy to know they have accomplished," Wells said. "In the first couple of years that we went, we were only bringing home ribbons. But they have practiced and competed, and they go out on a regular basis and work on their particular events."