Aurora Public School Unified Middle School Track Meet
Date: October 18, 2022
Written by: Brittany Javor
Photo Credit: Amy Wiles
It’s September at the Aurora Public Schools Stadium. The sun shines bright and a brisk fall breeze is in the air. I step onto the track and immediately am swarmed with images of students, middle schoolers specifically, on the field in their track gear, warming up for their event. Parents are packed in the stadium stands, playfully bantering with parents from competing teams . Athletes line up at the track, stretch their legs, and settle into position to start. Coaches yell from the sidelines, “PUSH, PUSH, PUSH, PUSH. DO. NOT. QUIT.” And “JUST LIKE WE PRACTICED, YOU GOT THIS!”
The athletes acknowledge their coaches, some with a confident smile, others with a timid nod. The gun cracks to launch the race, but I look away. I am searching for the Special Olympics Colorado Unified teams competing at this year’s Middle School Track Championship. I find the Special Olympics Colorado staff and the next thing I know, we are standing on the track in each lane, cheering as the Special Olympics Colorado athletes start running toward the finish line.
Today is especially important because it is the first-ever Unified Track Meet held during the Aurora Public Schools Middle School Track Meet. This means that this is the first time that students with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics Colorado athletes) will compete with students without intellectual disabilities (Unified partners) at this event. They will compete in several events throughout the day – the 50M Walk/Run, the 100M Walk/Run, and the 4×100 M Unified Relay Race.
It’s now time for the 4×100 M Relay. Special Olympics Colorado staff and volunteers help get the athletes and Unified partners onto the track. The Unified partners and Special Olympics Colorado athletes are holding hands – something you don’t see at every track meet. Each Unified pair, a team, ready to take on the event together. One athlete notices others like me on the sidelines taking photos of the teams as they line up for the relay. She blows a kiss at us and makes a phone call gesture while mouthing “call me.” I laugh out loud. There isn’t the tension that existed for the other track events in this moment before the gun fires – there is a softness, a love. Coaches and parents are proud of the athletes just for getting onto the track. And the athletes already feel like they have won, standing on the track waving to everyone watching. The gun fires and they are off, hand in hand, running to pass the baton to the next pair.
At the awards program, the Unified pairs are small in number compared to the traditional athletes – but it’s the start of something incredible. The parents are on the field with us, taking pictures while we get the athletes and Unified partners organized by the event they competed in. One by one, names are called and teams are given their ribbons.
There is a tenderness and vulnerability in how the athletes receive their awards. They are proud. Unbelievably undeniably proud. They are not worried about how well they did or didn’t do, if they impressed their coaches or their parents, if they beat their competitors, or how much they beat them by. They are simply proud because they had the opportunity to get on the track, to be recognized for their abilities, and to compete.
And I couldn’t be more proud myself.