Elon University hosted the 2023 Special Olympics Alamance County Spring Games for the first time since the pandemic, bringing together children with disabilities and making them all feel like winners.
Elon sophomore Elizabeth Price is the special events coordinator for Elon volunteers and said the hometown version of the event opened her eyes. She said she was excited to be able to be a big part of the Special Olympics that Elon hosts as soon as she got here.
“I’ve been a volunteer with the Special Olympics for about six years now. It’s completely changed my life. It’s my passion in life,” Price said. “When I came to Elon the most important thing I looked for in a school was a special mix program.Our purpose on campus is just to spread inclusion, acceptance and awareness of our friends and peers with disabilities in Alamance County.”
Price said she was led to working with these children through her previous experiences in high school. Price said everyone is more similar than what meets the eye and just because they have disabilities doesn’t mean they are completely different.
“During my freshman year of high school I met my friend Kyle. Kyle has a rare chromosomal abnormality and he kind of changed my life. He showed me that individuals with disabilities have more similarities on the inside than we might see on the outside,” Price said.
The events at the Special Olympics consisted of the 50 meter dash, softball throw and — brand new this year according to Price — the long jump. Getting to see how happy the athletes who Price works with often during her other volunteer hours makes her hard work worth every bit.
“The smiles on athletes when crossing the finish line is honestly nothing that I've ever experienced before. It just fills me with such joy and happiness that every athlete that crossed the finish line I feel like we’re kind of breaking down the stigma that athletes are incapable of competing and playing sports,” Price said.
One of those athletes is 17-year-old Patrick Wigfall, who is autistic.. Wigfall had a lot of excitement for the events going on and appreciates what Price does for him.
“She’s a nice person,” Wigfall said. “It's a fun day with my friends, especially participating in the Spring Games.”
Patrick’s father, Alvin Wigfall, loves seeing his son cherish these moments and said all the children need something fun like this. Alvin is appreciative for all the hard work that Elizabeth and all the Elon students put in for his son and all the other children.
“Here doing all this, this is what it's all about these kids. They need help. They need our help. And they're special because of their needs, their children. And the children of the world today need us,” Avin said. “Elizabeth and all the Elon students that come to the special needs. And help. We want to thank you. Because of your compassion to our children. The bond that you perform with them means the world to us.”
Alvin said thanks to the Elon students and other volunteers that he is much more relieved as a parent knowing there are people that care for Patrick. He loves that his son is able to be cared for in many different activities that Elon volunteers help with: bowling on Mondays, swimming on Wednesdays, soccer on Thursdays and basketball on Saturdays.
“It has taken such a weight off my mind knowing that when I go someplace that he sees that people treat him with joy and love and respect. I have not run into one Elon student that I cannot say does not hold high standards to every one of them,” Alvin said.
Alvin said he does whatever it takes to make Patrick happy and wants him to be able to do whatever he wants in life. Seeing a smile on Patrick's face makes Alvin feel like he is doing his job as a father and that feeling, according to him, is worth more than anything. Alvin never thought he would see a community of volunteers that would take as good of care of Patrick that he does as a father.
“Not in a million years. I'll tell you, growing up with an autistic child or a special needs child. You know, your biggest fear is, what's going to happen to him? Where's he going to go? Are people going to be nice to him? Because there are mean ones out there and there are people that will pick on him. But there are more nice ones than there are mean ones. Thank God for that. Because there's always going to be somebody there to protect,” Alvin said.
Patrick won the 100 meter dash and with a big smile across his face had one thing to say as he walked away with his medal.
“Nailed it,” Patrick said.
Elon students looking to get involved can visit Phoenix Serve to sign up and make a difference for those like Patrick, according to Price.