Curtis Fisher won the gold medal in stand-up paddle boarding.
When Bethany McClelland and the rest of Florida’s Special Olympics team first set foot on the University of Washington’s football stadium for the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics USA Games, the moment surpassed her expectations.
Thousands of people packed the stadium around her. Almost everyone waved signs and banners, and every single fan in attendance cheered on the athletes with so much passion that it moved McClelland, a special education teacher at Spruce Creek High School, to tears.
“It was crazy,” she said. “For me, the whole time, I was just trying not to cry because it was overwhelming to see how happy the athletes were.”
Bethany McClelland was joined by her husband and fellow Special Olympics coach, Cameron McClelland, and Spruce Creek students Hannah Harrison, Curtis Fisher, Caleb Keirstead and Marina Shaker.
Fisher competed in the stand-up paddleboarding competition.
Fisher, facing several other racers, had to paddle one mile. Nearly halfway through the race, he fell off his board. With his family and numerous other fans cheering him on, Fisher scrambled to climb back on his board.
His arms burned as he continued to paddle toward the finish line.
“For me, the whole time, I was just trying not to cry because it was overwhelming to see how happy the athletes were.”
Bethany McClelland, a special education teacher at Spruce Creek High School
“But I had a lot of strength left in me,” he said.
Fisher finished with a time 13:18.82, eclipsing the runner-up by over a minute to win the gold medal.
Caleb Keirstead, who competed in golf skills, finished fourth in the event, while Shaker and her unified partner, Harrison, participated in the youth leadership experience.
In addition to the athletic competitions, the athletes also got to experience independence. They stayed in the university’s brand new dorm rooms, woke up, got ready for the day and met with their respective coaches all on their own.
The level of independence her athletes showed gave Bethany McClelland chills.
“It’s priceless to see that,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things about the Special Olympics: They really do promote independence.”
Throughout the entirety of the Games, which took place July 1-6, the McClellands were in awe of the athletes’ perseverance.
“These kids, they don’t let anything stop them,” Bethany McClelland said. “Their attitude and their outlook on everything, they’re so positive.”
Cameron McClelland still has a pin he received at the Games — one of the many memories of the friendships formed that he’ll continue to hold onto. It reads: Inclusion is the revolution.
“That was one of the main mottos of the Games,” he said. “That’s what it all comes back to.”