Three ribbons dangled from Special Olympian Terry McConnell’s neck, two for first place and one for second. But as far as he was concerned, they were all blue.
“He thinks he wins everything,” said his mother, Meggie McConnell. “That’s a problem, but it gives him self esteem, because he thinks that he’s winning.”
The 30-year-old McConnell was one of about 50 athletes, according to area director John Wray, on hand to compete in the Stanislaus Special Olympics’ 45th annual Track and Field Games and Bocce Tournament on a sunny Saturday at John F. Kennedy School.
The athletes took part in various events, but the times and distances were of little importance. What was of greater importance were the smiles on the faces of the Special Olympians.
“He’s made a lot of friends out here,” said Meggie McConnell. “All his life, there have been some kids that have made fun of him, but God blessed him not to see it.”
On hand Saturday were members of the California Highway Patrol’s Modesto office. Capt. Julian Irigoyen, commander of the Modesto CHP, as well as others, was on hand to hand out ribbons to the participants.
“We, as an agency, participate in all sorts of community events,” said Irigoyen. “And we’re always open to supporting the Special Olympics and people with special needs.”
Thirty-year-old Jesse Alicea, who is autistic, also took home multiple ribbons. He’s a resident of the Empire Guest House, an adult residential facility for those with handicaps.
“This is their life,” said Joan Little, who, along with husband Doug Little, owns the Empire Guest House. “It’s their dream. They live and breathe this stuff.”
And Alicea enjoys competition as much as anyone.
“Sure, but I get tired after that,” said Alicea, who pointed out very carefully that his first name is spelled J-E-S-S-E … “No I. An I is for girls.”
He then went on to prioritize what he likes best. “Family first. Medals. Joan and Doug. And Disneyland.”
He also likes to bowl – another Special Olympics event.
“I like it,” he said. “I keep getting gutter balls. I got a strike once.”
McConnell, who holds down a job at Production Unlimited, through the Howard Training Center, also likes to bowl. He hits the lanes every Wednesday and Friday. And, again, he thinks he wins every time.
“I don’t think he thinks he’s handicapped,” said Meggie McConnell, who has three younger boys and a 10-year-old daughter, Payton, who was on hand at the Ken Daniel Athletic Field to support her brother. “He thinks his family is.”