By Staff Sgt. Jacob Barreiro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
The Harding University football stadium echoed with the above words as thousands of athletes and their supporters flocked to Searcy, Ark., to compete in the Arkansas Summer Special Olympics May 23 - 25.
Among the competitors was a three-person team from Little Rock Air Force Base coached by Master Sgt. Beth Jungk, a 19th Communications Squadron plans and programs manager.
Officially called “Team Herc” the crew is comprised of three dependents on base: Morgan Jungk, Beth’s daughter; Catherine Hayes, daughter of Catherine and Michael Hayes, and Cody Anderson, son of Philip and Kiley Anderson.
The athletes competed in a variety of contests during the three-day event, which kicked off with an opening ceremony May 23 in Harding University’s football stadium.
The opening ceremonies included a formal introduction of all the athletes, hailing from 16 different districts in Arkansas, the official lighting of the Special Olympics torch, flown in by helicopter after being run throughout the state by the law enforcement torch run and live music from a band. Also, approximately 400 motorcyclists from throughout Arkansas rode into and took a ceremonial lap around the stadium in honor of the athletes. Jungk said most of the athletes love the opening ceremonies because of the grandeur and pomp surrounding them.
“When they lit the torch, Cody leaned over to his brother and said ‘these are just like real Olympics’,” said Jungk. “It’s awesome to see how excited they get.”
Morgan, diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, kabuki syndrome and other ailments, competed in the tennis ball toss and 50 meter dash. Jungk said her inclusion in the running competition was special because it’s the first time Morgan ran in the Olympics.
“She’s had leg troubles her whole life, and this is the first year she’ll be competing in a run,” she said. “She’s had a lot of help getting ready for running at school, her teachers really helped a lot.”
Catherine, diagnosed with autism, competed in the softball toss and 100 meter dash, winning a bronze medal in the 100 meter dash and a silver in the softball toss.
Cody, diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome , competed in the softball toss and 100 meter dash, winning a bronze in the softball toss.
Morgan won a silver medal in the 50 meter dash.
Although each athlete competed hard to win their competitions, the spirit of the Special Olympics is inclusivity, hard work, courage and dedication and Jungk said she thinks the kids on her team show all of these traits by working together.
“It’s been great for Morgan, working with Cody and Catherine,” she said. “You can see how they help each other when they’re all together.”
Jungk said the team practices several times a week during the season, and although they’ll be taking a short break for summer, she looks forward to working with the kids to get ready for the next competition.
“These kids work so hard in practice to get ready for the games,” she said. “A lot of work goes into it.”
Jungk said her team, which competes in district 5, is open to more participants and encourages Team Little Rock parents with eligible children to join.
It’s a great way for disabled people to compete in a respectful and inclusive environment, she said. The games preach a message of tolerance and friendship among competitors, providing them an opportunity to demonstrate skill and capability despite suffering from intellectual or physical ailments.
Anyone interested in joining Team Herc can call Jungk at 615-5451. She said the team can also use volunteers to assist in training. The games are open to a wide variety of people of various disability types and levels.
“We can always use more help,” she said. “Volunteers, competitors, either way it’s something great to be involved in. We want to get the word out on base that we’d love to see more people out here.”
The games have a long list of sports available to compete in including, but not limited to, volleyball, power lifting, soccer, flag football, softball, floor hockey, golf, tennis, gymnastics and bowling. For a comprehensive list of sports open to competition or more information on the Special Olympics, visit http://www.specialolympicsarkansas.org/.