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Special athletes take a ride

Troy Hill gives emergency medical services personnel a thumbs up before competing in the Special Olympics on Saturday at the Curry County Fairgrounds. (Staff photo: Mike Linn)

Some of them needed help guiding their horses around an obstacle course.

But judging by the expressions on their faces, this weekend’s Special Olympics was just as important as the one that recently ended in Athens, Greece.

While there were no gold medals awarded during the annual event at the Curry County Fairgrounds, there were lots of smiles, camaraderie and laughter.

“This is my favorite event; I like horseback riding,” said Cindy Vaughn Saturday afternoon. “There are a lot of good people here.”

Vaughn has been riding horses for 35 to 40 years, and participating in the Special Olympics for at least 30, her mother Bonnie Light said.

But this event wasn’t just about competition, said Vaughn, who was really looking forward to a Saturday evening dance and had a good time visiting with friends who came to the event from Albuquerque and Roswell.

When her friend Debi Thornton was about to take part in the pole bending competition — a timed event in which riders guide their horses around poles — Vaughn had some words of encouragement.

“Debi, you look good girl,” she said.

In all, 39 mentally or physically challenged participants between the ages of 12 and 50 took part in the equestrian event. There were 19 participants from Clovis.

“Everyone said it has been great, and the weather has been great for a change,” local coordinator Wanda Thornton said.

The participants aren’t the only ones who enjoy the event.

Master Sgt. Jerry Jordan, a Cannon Air Force Base airman, said he’s been a coach for the Special Olympics for about 10 years.

“It’s a good cause. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the kick they get out of it,” he said.

Light, who like Jordan is a coach, said the event has been in Clovis since it started, about 20 year ago. Typically participants are scared of the horses when they first ride, but it doesn’t take long before they find the animals therapeutic, she said.

She said several of the participant hold jobs, like Vaughn, who works at McDonald’s in Clovis, and Sheryl Dalke, who works in the cafeteria at Cannon.

Dalke described the event as a good time, and said she enjoyed talking with her female competitors.

Asked what they discuss, Dalke said “girl things” and smiled.