A Special Way To End The Summer

Taylor Trowbridge (left) and Jada Goodson brought home two of the 18 gold medals that the Virginia squad won at the Special Olympics’ National Games last month. Photo by Jason Norman

In mid-July, the University of Nebraska suddenly transformed into a melting pot of some of America's finest sort of folks.

Four figures' worth of a new crew came to town -- and for a rare time in their lives, they got a chance to be around hundreds, even thousands of people in the same position as themselves. It's wrong that anyone or anything would ever make them feel out of place, but this was somewhere where that couldn't happen; everyone here was just like anyone else - no exceptions, not anymore.

They got to hang out, strolled around town, and grabbed a special chance to kick back with camaraderie.

Oh, and competing against the rest of Old Glory's greatest Special Olympians? That was part of it as well at the National Games.

Even after two decades on the courts, Jeff Regan still gets to see something new once in a while, and the Nationals was a big example. New courts, new teammates,... and an impromptu coach that any young tennis star - any one - would backhand and backflip for.

"It was great to see Andy Roddick," says Regan, who, along with many other competitors, got to learn from the world champion. "I got a high-five from him, and he helped a lot of people. He taught us about concentrating and being consistent with a tennis ball. He told me to have fun and play my best. He was very nice."

On another court, Taylor Trowbridge got ready to show the guys why tennis can truly be a girl's game; channeling the spirit of her favorite, Serena Williams, the Great Bridge grad was the only lady on her skills squad, which tested players on the forehand and backhand volleys, and overhand strokes.

"I liked the forehand," she says. "Nebraska was really hot, and I got to walk around - tons of walking. I went around to watch other Olympians, because I wanted to help them."

Her methods worked - over the next few days, she met several colleagues from up and down the East Coast. "We hung out and talked," she recalls.

Jada Goodson had a similar job in a different environment; the Ocean Lakes student, a frequent sight on Virginia Beach's First Tee courses, took on the best of the rest on the links.

"I like driving the best, because it's fun," says Goodson, completing his first cross-country flight in the process. "We were drawn from a pool. We practiced, and practiced again the next day. Then we went out to play." He was the youngest on his co-ed squad.

"The first thing I thought was that I needed to do good," says Goodson, "but then I started doing good, so I just went with the flow." Commandeering tests in short-putt (2-3 feet), long-putt (4-plus), chipping off grass and out of bunker, and driving, the linksters went to work.

Meanwhile, others got to show yet another form of athletic diversity, of an arguably more physical type.

"I was excited," exclaims Lake Taylor alumnus Jason Smith, "because I knew I was the best in the area, and I got to go to nationals." He was preparing to launch the shotput, javelin, and himself all the way down the tracks and fields.

He worked out with the long spike, but didn't compete. Then he picked up the makeshift cannonball for the first time, and gunned it nearly 11 feet, good enough for silver.

Now ready to take himself to the air, Smith long-jumped 14, 15, and 16 feet on his attempts. This got him a bronze, and he'd later come in fourth in the 100-meter dash.

"I felt proud of myself," he says. "I came in second and third, and I was glad to come home."

Regan's tennis traverses were different than Trowbridge's; he was taking on other racketeers in sets and games.

"The first day, it was really windy, but I played good," he says. "The second day, it was pretty rainy, so we went inside. The third day was hot."

Players were counted by the games they won, rather than the matches. When all was said and collected, Regan had grabbed the silver medal.

"I was shocked," he says. "It felt good. It was all pretty fun."

As her event wound down, Trowbridge wasn't exactly taking things all in good fun.

"On the second day, I should have been better," she glumly recalls. "I was really tired and winded."

After hoping that her third time might be a little charming, Trowbridge and the rest of the Olympians headed to a college gymnasium. The tennis athletes came up front, and there names were rattled off.

Trowbridge wondered why she and a fellow were the only ones still there. Then she realized that she'd been the top lady scorer of her event.

"I was totally freaked out!" she admits. "I was nervous, excited, and surprised. I had tears coming down my face." As the crowds cheered, a gold medal was placed around her neck.

"I couldn't wait to show it off!" she says.

Soon, she'd be joined at the summit of the stage and standings; Jada had not only taken home the top spot on the golf skills, he'd set an all-time male record.

"By the second day, I was in first," he says. "I felt good, but I was a little nervous. At the end, I felt good. It was my first time at the Olympics."

Overall, Virginia's 33 participants took home 48 medals from the events, winning golds in every event they played, except soccer.