CLEVELAND — White County Special Olympians had their day to shine Friday as the sun and warm temperatures ushered in their annual games.
“We are truly blessed with the weather,” said Coordinator Sharon Brown. “We were able to do it a little later in the season this year, which is a blessing as well. And we have sunshine. Look at all the wonderful crowd that we have. We have kids here from all the different schools. They’re cheering on the athletes.”
Organizers say all Special Olympians are heroes because of their strength, perseverance and dedication.
One of many special moments during Friday’s games occurred with the emotional presentation of the annual Sarah Loudermilk Award, taking place this year on what would have been her 13th birthday.
“I guess that makes this one a little bit more special,” Brown said in making the presentation. “We give an award each year in memory of Sarah Loudermilk.”
Special Education teacher Heather Talton of Tesnatee Gap Elementary School read her nomination of Bryston Stanfill, who was critically injured in a wreck on U.S. 129 near Hub Head Road in the Clermont area on Dec. 20. That wreck claimed the life of his mother, Shelby Paige Stanfill, 27.
“In the two years that this student has been in my classroom, I’ve learned a great deal about character, love, and about being a better human being,” Talton said. “Because of who he is, I have been challenged to develop my character on a deeper level. Because of him, I have been inspired to be a better person.”
In listing the student’s characteristics, Talton mentioned perseverance.
“This student was in a very serious car accident in December,” Talton said. “He lost his mom and his unborn sister. His injuries were so severe that he was in the hospital for a month. He has pins in his hips. He could not stand, walk or run for two months. Because of the pins, he could not be safely strapped in a car seat and as a result he was confined to his home, unable to even go to his bedroom because it was up the stairs.”
But that didn’t discourage Bryston, according to his teacher.
“This remarkable young man kept a positive attitude the entire time,” Talton said. “Here he was an active little boy that loved P.E. and running more than anything, and now he relied on everyone for that mobility, yet he overcame. He remained in one room of the house for all of the time and couldn’t do simple things like go out for ice cream, yet he didn’t complain. He pressed on despite the hardships that he was facing.”
Another trait Talton mentioned was determination.
“This student had his pins removed a few short weeks ago,” Talton said. “He was allowed to bear weight for the first time in two months. A few shaky steps and a day later, this young man began walking everywhere. He attempted stairs and refused help that all of us wanted to give him. When he returned to school for his first half day, he refused a wheelchair for assistance. He knew if he practiced he would get better. He knew the more he tried, the easier it would become.”
In discussing his commitment, Talton said, “The first day back [at school], he immediately asked to help assist his classmates, whether it was helping a friend remember to follow directions or helping a little girl back into her chair. In his learning to walk again and rebuilding of strength, in his world being completely changed, in his tremendous loss, this sweet boy put himself last and insisted on helping others — pushing a wheelchair, helping a friend clean up, gently reminding them to listen to instructions. I stood in awe of his kind heart and helping others to be the best version of themselves.”
Just before presenting Bryston with the plaque representing the Sarah Loudermilk Award, Talton spoke of his impact on her life.
“As a witness to this child’s life and the privilege I have had of being his teacher, I will not ever be the same,” Talton said. “I have changed for the better. This student embodies the goodness in this world, and that is why he is not only my hero but a true champion.”
The award, presented annually during the White County Special Oympics, is named for Sarah Brook Loudermilk of Sautee, who died Dec. 5, 2008, at age 3.
Dean Dyer of WRWH Radio contributed to this report.