CHARLOTTE, N.C.– --
The air buzzed with excitement and anticipation as members of the North Carolina Air National Guard awaited the arrival of State Special Olympians for the 33rd Annual Special Olympics Day at the Races held at the Z-Max Pavilion next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, May 24th, 2018.
The Guardsmen arrived early to help set-up the food and tables, hand out mementos, and greet the athletes and their families.
The annual event started in 1985 and was coordinated by Vangie Boswell and her husband, Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Boswell, who was stationed at the North Carolina Air National Guard. In 1985, the Boswells started the celebration which was located closer to the main track but eventually, they had to move towards the Z-Max Pavilion because of their increasing numbers.
“One of the people that I brought in for sponsorship, Nestle Foods, was involved in the Special Olympics, and they said they would like to do something at the race track for some of the athletes so I put it together and that was the beginning,” stated Vangie Boswell. “I started it 33 years ago with 50 athletes, and now we have more than 600.”
With more than 35 volunteers, the North Carolina Air National Guard started helping in an official capacity 19 years ago and remains as one of 14 sponsors that supports the annual event.
“The first couple of years I did it, I noticed I would see some of the same athletes every year and we learned their names and they learned ours. We look for them now. It’s just a good time to come out and have some fun with them,” said Master Sgt. Tracie Rankin, inspection superintendent for the 145th Airlift Wing. Rankin has helped with the event since the North Carolina Air National Guard became officially involved.
In the sea of familiar faces, State Special Olympian Allen Greene has been attending since the event started in 1985 and has been known for his dance moves that he’ll only showcase when the Prince of Pop starts playing in the background.
“I have so many friends here. ‘Billie Jean’ is my favorite song, I’m going to dance to it after I eat,” said Greene.
Some athletes are participants in nearly every sports category. Catlin Gray, a recently engaged State Special Olympian from Boone N.C., competes in all the categories with her group that includes her soon-to be husband.
“I’ve been coming here [Annual Special Olympics day at the Races] for nine years off and on. I do all four seasons. I’ve done all of them pretty much, cycling, skiing, basketball, and volleyball. My favorite is volleyball,” said Gray.
For some North Carolina Air National Guardsmen, it was their first experience helping with the event and they were eager and enthusiastic to do so.
“The reason why I’m here is not just for me but to be here for the athletes; working with them definitely brings a joy to my life,” said Senior Airman Cory Hughes, a material controlman with the 145th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
The North Carolina Air National Guardsmen that helped set-up and run the event were able to pass out flags, stickers, and ear plugs to State Special Olympians and their families. They also helped serve food and drinks while other helped direct traffic in and out of the event. When they weren’t handing out food or mementos, they were on the dance floor and mingling with the athletes, or playing them in a game of corn hole.
“We’re surrounded by so many entitled people in life, and to see those who don’t take things for granted, enjoying and treating the littlest things as big victories is a nice breath of fresh air. Their spirit brings me back,” said Tech. Sgt. James Lyman, aircrew flight equipment with the 145th Operations Support Squadron. Lyman has served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force and has been involved with the event for 15 years.
The annual event grows each year in the number of athletes and participants and requires an increasing budget to go with it. If you are interested in donating to this event or becoming a sponsor, please contact Vangie Boswell at 704-904-7805 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.