By Greg Archuleta
UNM Assistant Director of Communications
It’s hard work making sure everything’s fun and games – but well worth the effort.
Forty members of the University of New Mexico football team donated about five hours of their time Saturday to participate in the fifth Special Olympics of New Mexico Mayor’s Indoor Track Invitational.
The Lobos are used to being the athletes competing for the entertainment of large crowds. But on Saturday, they were the spectators feeding off the efforts provided by the Special Olympians.
“This is my first year helping with this,” running back Wendell Carter said. “My teammates, Kenya Donaldson in particular, told me how fun this was.
“It’s been a blast; every second has been fun. As an athlete you don’t always get a chance to be around in this type of environment. This is the best environment I’ve ever been in, the best energy.”
While the Lobo football players timed, measured, started, stopped, guided, high-fived, hugged, held, lifted, lowered, and shouted encouragement to the participants at the Albuquerque Convention Center, they were a little harder on each other to make sure everything ran smoothly.
“Who’s got Lane 1? Who’s got Lane 2?” wide receiver John Russo yelled, making sure his Lobo teammate were timing each lane of the events around the oval.
Quarterback Cole Gautsche, one of the timers, made sure a runner in each lane had a pair of Lobos recording results, just in case one of the stopwatches malfunctioned.
Offensive lineman Jamal Price temporarily relieved cornerback Donnie Duncan because Duncan couldn’t get the starter’s pistol to fire immediately during a couple of events. And some Lobos cautioned running back David Anaya to get off the track during the race as he was coordinating another group of contestants to head toward the starting line.
He made up for it later, sprinting over to the finish line to help an athlete in a rolling walker come to a stop after a race.
Linebacker Toby Ball made sure each Lobo in charge of a running certain event got the times of their competitors to the correct officials.
“I haven’t seen very many of our guys slacking off,” Ball said, laughing at the question. This is Ball’s third year participating in the track and field meet. “It’s important for the older guys to get our younger guys to understand what we’re out here to do. It’s not about us; it’s about the Special Olympians today. That’s what we’re trying to get the younger guys to realize. But everybody’s been really into it.”
Ball says part of the younger Lobos’ education process is getting them to understand their place in the community.
“It’s very important for us to do these kinds of things because our community supports us, and that means a lot. It’s like coach (Bob) Davie says, we’re not anything without the community, so this is a small way of thanking them for supporting us.”
Mayor Richard Berry kicked off the event, greeting the competitors, their coaches and their families. He thanked the Lobos and volunteers from Bank of America for their help.
Then, Special Olympian Jesus Ybarra ran around the track with the ceremonial torch and the Lobos following behind.
“Jesus did a fantastic job with the torch,” running back Teriyon Gipon said. “It was hard to keep up with him.”
Relays and long-distance event kicked off the completion, followed by sprints, long jumps and shot put. Regardless of whether the Lobos were in charge of coordinating groups for each event or serving as judges or timers, they all congregated after the competitors finished with their events to dispense high-fives, fist bumps and hugs.
The determination at which the Special Olympians competed left an impression on their UNM guests.
“Seeing the effort that these guys put out, I have no excuse to think that I’m tired when we’re a doing a long workout or practice or anything like that,” Carter said.
Others said the event humbled them.
“This is a real important event for us,” outside linebacker Donnie White said, “because it shows us character. A lot of these athletes don’t get the chance to do a lot of things we do every day and take for granted. The kids just get so happy to see us; they treat us like stars. We’re role models, so it’s important for us to show our support.”
The Lobos and Olympians, however, sometimes engage in role-reversals.
Asked how it feels when he gets a high-five from an Olympian, White struggles for words.
“It’s … it’s a feeling you can’t explain; it’s hard to describe,” he said. “But it’s pretty awesome.”