(T-G Photo by Jim Davis)
"My heart was touched by the parade and the celebrated tradition it represents," said Pam Galbreth, special education supervisor for Bedford County schools, who was on hand for the opening ceremonies Thursday.
"I truly appreciate the teachers and the time they have taken with the children in preparation for the events and development of our athletes."
Students from Shelbyville Central High School, Community High School, Harris Middle, Liberty and East Side Elementary participated.
"The students absolutely love going to Special Olympics Track & Field! They get to showcase their talents while getting to hang out with their peers who are not disabled," said Christle Price of Central High.
"Everyone is so supportive of each other. It is great to see my students having a great time and being proud of themselves."
The athletes were supported by peers from the National Honor Society and other school service clubs.
Teacher Shannon Dearing enjoyed the day as well.
"This is the first time that Liberty School has taken a group to the summer games and I am looking forward to many years to come," Dearing said.
All students took home awards, many of them placing first in their events. There were also moments of inspiration, according to Sonya Schmidt-Heischberg, who teaches at HMS.
"One of the participants began the school year using a walker and was unable to go 25 feet without stopping," she said. "During the track meet, he came in second place in his heat in the 50-meter run. What an accomplishment."
HMS also took home the first-place trophy for the Special Olympics banner contest.
East Side only took one athlete to the games, but that student was treated like a visiting celebrity when he returned to school with his ribbons, according to special education teacher Katie Myers.
The event made Myers grateful for her career choice.
"As I was sitting on the bus on the ride over to the track I looked around at all of the beautiful souls that surrounded me and I sent up a prayer of gratitude for being blessed with such an amazing job," she said.
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Worldwide, the organization serves more than 3.7 million athletes -- ages 8 years old and up from more than 170 countries. For more information, visit www.specialolympics.org.
SEE ALSO: A photo gallery of local Special Olympics athletes.