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Special smiles: Grins outshine special needs in Wise County’s Olympians

By Erika Pedroza | Published Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cheers, applause, smiles and celebrations were in abundance Tuesday at the Wise County Olympathon.

Throngs of volunteers encouraged young participants as they hurled plastic horseshoes and softballs, sprinted down the straightaway on the Bull Memorial Stadium track and maneuvered an obstacle course atop their wheelchairs.

After putting forth their best effort in any given event, competitors exerted just as much energy high-fiving those lined up to praise their efforts.

LITTLE'S BIG HEART - Kerry Roper of Paradise holds her 11-year-old daughter, Shannon, in between events at the Wise County Olympathon Tuesday. Shannon has Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by small stature, sparse hair and splotchy red skin. But those traits are outweighed by her otherwise good health and charismatic personality. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

LITTLE’S BIG HEART – Kerry Roper of Paradise holds her 11-year-old daughter, Shannon, in between events at the Wise County Olympathon Tuesday. Shannon has Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by small stature, sparse hair and splotchy red skin. But those traits are outweighed by her otherwise good health and charismatic personality. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“This day brings out the best in everyone,” said Kerry Roper of Paradise.

Her daughter, Shannon, was among the participants in the annual field day for special-needs students across the county. But when she wasn’t at the starting line of a race or on deck to jump in the long jump, the Paradise Intermediate fourth grader waited at the finish line, hands extended to congratulate the other competitors – whether she knew them or not.

Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, has stunted the 11-year-old’s growth. At 20 pounds and less than 3 feet tall, she wasn’t always easily spotted by her classmates.

But Shannon followed them – sometimes all the way to the tent where organizers distributed ribbons – and gave them their deserved high five, all without losing her grip on the red snow cone in her left hand.

“She’s a hoot,” her mother said. “She loves being out here with all of her classmates and friends and loves all the cheering. She loves cheering everyone on.”

The syndrome does not worsen, and those diagnosed with it are expected to live a normal lifespan. Although she’s at risk for melanoma with the skin condition and bone cancer with the disorder, she has shown no signs.

“She’s very healthy,” Kerry said. “She’s just tiny. It’s just physical limitations.”

In addition to short stature, other characteristics of the syndrome include baldness/abnormal hair growth, splotchy red skin, early onset of cataracts and under-developed teeth.

All those physical traits are outshined by Shannon’s bright smile, twinkling eyes and loving demeanor.

“People are just drawn to her, and she’s drawn to people,” Kerry said of her daughter. “She loves people, and she loves being outside and doing this kind of thing.”

As she stood in line awaiting her turn in the horseshoe toss, Shannon proudly showed off a neon green ribbon denoting her personal victory in the 25-meter dash.

“She did it all by herself, without any assistance,” Kerry said.

Another characteristic of the condition, Shannon does not have any sweat glands so she isn’t able to sweat and cool her body down. As a result, she must limit her outdoor exposure on blistery days like Tuesday.

“If it’s more than 80 degrees, it’s hard to be outside in the sun for very long,” Kerry said.

Despite her best efforts, the bigger challenge was in keeping her spunky daughter shaded and getting her to occasionally sit and rest in her pretty pink push-car.

Shannon would sit wide-eyed, “taking it all in” for a couple of minutes before dashing after other competitors to high five them, her mother closely behind.

Olympathon organizers plan the event with such participants in mind. Shannon had already gone for a ride in the Lions’ Club barrel train and had a ladybug painted on her right cheek by a Bridgeport High School volunteer.

She planned to dole out a few more congratulatory pats before grabbing lunch and calling it a day.

“The Olympathon is great,” Kerry said. “The participants love it. It’s their day to shine, and they do.”

ALL SMILES - J.J. Benavidez of Decatur celebrates a race finish at the Wise County Olympathon Tuesday as peers, teachers and volunteers cheer him on. Special-needs students from across the county were invited to the day-long field day in Bridgeport. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

ALL SMILES – J.J. Benavidez of Decatur celebrates a race finish at the Wise County Olympathon Tuesday as peers, teachers and volunteers cheer him on. Special-needs students from across the county were invited to the day-long field day in Bridgeport. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

CLOWNING AROUND - Participants of this year's Wise County Olympathon take a break from the field day activities to cut up with Bubbles the Clown, played by Linda Main. Main is a diagnostician for Wise County Shared Services, whose staff organizes the event. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

CLOWNING AROUND – Participants of this year’s Wise County Olympathon take a break from the field day activities to cut up with Bubbles the Clown, played by Linda Main. Main is a diagnostician for Wise County Shared Services, whose staff organizes the event. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

DASH TO THE FINISH LINE - Sheri Huling, a physical therapist for Wise County Shared Services, wheels 5-year-old Cutter Balas of Decatur down a straightaway of the Bull Memorial Stadium track in the 25-meter dash of the Wise County Olympathon. The field day is typically held at the Bridgeport stadium. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

DASH TO THE FINISH LINE – Sheri Huling, a physical therapist for Wise County Shared Services, wheels 5-year-old Cutter Balas of Decatur down a straightaway of the Bull Memorial Stadium track in the 25-meter dash of the Wise County Olympathon. The field day is typically held at the Bridgeport stadium. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

COUNTYWIDE FIELD DAY - Volunteers Kim Myers (left) and Jill Eder encourage Olympathon participants Zulynn Simpson of Decatur and Shanna Perez of Bridgeport with cheers and claps. Special needs students from across the county are invited to the day-long event. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

COUNTYWIDE FIELD DAY – Volunteers Kim Myers (left) and Jill Eder encourage Olympathon participants Zulynn Simpson of Decatur and Shanna Perez of Bridgeport with cheers and claps. Special needs students from across the county are invited to the day-long event. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

FUN FOR ALL - Ian Strine of Slidell watches hopefully as bowling pins tumble after his strike-potential release. The Wise County Olympathon also included races, jumping events, obstacle courses, horseshoe and softball tosses, face-painting, train rides and lunch. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

FUN FOR ALL – Ian Strine of Slidell watches hopefully as bowling pins tumble after his strike-potential release. The Wise County Olympathon also included races, jumping events, obstacle courses, horseshoe and softball tosses, face-painting, train rides and lunch. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

 

 

 

 

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