Summer Games provides competition, memories, and so much more

posted Sat, Jun 7, 2014 by Jon Buzby

Kenny Jones hopes his success in the pool at the Summer Games leads to success in the sprint triathlon at the USA Games. (photo by Ruth Coughlan)

NEWARK –– Kenny Jones surfaced with an exhausted sigh of relief after tapping the touchpad in the pool at the finish of the 200-yard freestyle finals.

But as tired as he was, Jones was all smiles knowing he had just won another gold medal at the 2014 Special Olympics Delaware Summer Games.

“I feel great,” he exulted after finishing his final race of the weekend.

And he should. Jones’ 200-yard victory was his second medal of the weekend, his first coming on Friday in the 400-yard race.

Yet despite the smiles and relief, the longtime Special Olympics competitor knows he has to quickly, and seriously, turn his attention to his next big race -- a longer, tougher swim coming up in just over a week. And not just any swim, but one that precedes a long run, and an even longer bike ride. Each event right after the other.

Participating in triathlons is nothing new to Jones, who completed his first one more than a decade ago at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware.

“I was already running and swimming, so my coach, Len Leshem, said, ‘Why don’t you just add cycling?’” Jones explained of how he got started.

Next week Jones will compete in a sprint triathlon in Princeton, New Jersey, against the top Special Olympics triathletes from around the country. And when the starting gun goes off on the shoreline of Lake Mercer at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games, history will be made as it will mark the first time a sprint triathlon has ever been contested at a National or World Special Olympics Games.

“It is exciting to be part of the first one ever,” Jones said of the 250-meter swim, 10k ride and 5k run that takes place at 2,500-acre Mercer County Park.

Jones has been training vigorously for the past three months, biking and running five times a week and swimming at least three. His training session the Sunday before Summer Games consisted of a four-mile run, 10k bike ride, one-hour spin class, and culminated with a 20-lap swim. Jones credits his intense training for the triathlon as the main reason he succeeded in the Rawstrom Natatorium during the Summer Games.

“I knew I had trained harder in the months leading up to Summer Games than ever before,” he said.

Jones was one of more than 800 athletes and Unified partners (peers without disabilities) who competed in six sports – aquatics, bocce, powerlifting, softball, tennis, and track and field – at the annual Summer Games, held June 6-7 at UD and Handloff Park (softball). More than 1,000 volunteers turned out to help out at the event, which is sponsored by DuPont.

“It’s amazing how many familiar faces we see year after year,” said a smiling Ann Grunert, executive director of SODE. “Each volunteer comes with a determination to help make this year’s Games the best yet, and leaves telling us they got a lot more out of the experience than they could ever give.

“And, that they’ll be back next year,” she added.

The volunteers provided help at the sports venues and other fun activities that took place during the games. Olympic Village on Friday, followed by a gala Opening Ceremony and dance later in the evening kept everyone moving, despite an exhausting day of competition.

“They love the music and dancing,” one of the many parents in attendance commented. “It’s amazing how much energy they have when they come to these Games. It’s the highlight of the year for most of them.”

Jones hopes to add another highlight to his year when he heads to the USA Games next Saturday with 67 other athletes and Unified partners who will represent Team Delaware. More than 3,500 athletes and 70,000 friends, families and spectators are expected to attend. And just like those attending the Summer Games here locally, the highlights will include much more than just the competition.

“I am looking to catch up with an old friend I met in Greece,” Jones commented about a fellow cyclist he competed against at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games. “We’ve kept in touch through Facebook, but I can’t wait to see him in person and compete against him again.”

As for the triathlon itself?

“I just want to finish,” Jones said grinning.