06/01/07 — Special Olympians head to Raleigh

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Special Olympians head to Raleigh

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 1, 2007 1:46 PM

It doesn't matter to Robert Benson whether he wins the power lifting competition at the state Special Olympics or not. And it doesn't matter to his father. That's not what the games are about.

Benson, 21, is one of a contingent of 18 Wayne County athletes who will compete in the games this weekend in Raleigh. For them, the competition is paramount.

"I'll say this year I'm not going to cry, and I do. It doesn't matter if they come in 13th. To them, it's like they got first place," the elder Benson said.

The games will begin early Saturday and will feature track and field, swimming and power lifting.

Robert Jr. is one of three athletes who will compete in the power lifting division. He has brought home a number of medals and ribbons during his years of Special Olympics competition.

Another power lifter is Ryan Hood, 26. This will be his first foray into the power lifting category. Previously, his expertise in bowling took him all the way to Ireland for the World Games. The third lifter from Wayne is Shannon Moore, who, like his teammates, has been involved in the Special Olympics for a number of years.

For them and the rest of the Wayne athletes, the games are a chance to prove themselves and to show others what the Special Olympics is all about.

"I'm going as an athlete and as a global messenger to teach the world about Special Olympics," Ryan said.

R.L. Gurley has helped train the three power lifters and has developed a strong bond with them and their parents.

Gurley and his wife, Phyllis, have been involved in the Special Olympics for years. Their son, Bobby, died about a year ago after being active in the Special Olympics for years. When he was very young, doctors had told the Gurleys their son likely would never walk. But his father worked with him to exercise and develop himself physically. In 1993, he was named Special Olympics Athlete of the Year at the State Games.

"Years ago, you thought of what they could not do. Now, they see the things they can do," Mrs. Gurley said.

The power lifters have been working out three times a week at the Family Y and they come to Gurley's home near Goldsboro once a week to work on the heavy lifting and learning the specific rules of the competition.

"It's amazing how quickly they picked up on the rules," said Gurley, who has seen an increase in strength and in confidence among the three athletes he trains.

Tonight, opening ceremonies will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Dorton Arena.

During the games, the athletes will stay at dormitories on the campus of North Carolina State University. The competition will begin early Saturday, with an estimated 1,300 athletes from across the state involved.

In July, another group of Wayne athletes will take part in the bowling and equestrian competitions.