Gifted Games put heroes center stage

GILROY—Marilyn Gonzalez pushed her walker across finish line on the Gilroy High School track as she completed the 50-yard dash.
She placed her walker in park, turned to the stands packed with students and threw her arms in the air taking in the accolades of a conquering hero.
And that’s exactly what she was.
Marilyn conquered the race, not caring for a second how quickly she finished it, not caring for a second who finished ahead of her, not caring for a second about anything else.
The high school crowd cheered. The teachers, helpers and family members cheered. And she took it all in.
It was a moment that could easily have left you reaching for a tissue to brush aside your tears if not for just how happy the whole atmosphere was.
Marilyn and near 350 fellow athletes for that day were conquering heroes in the Gifted Games.
Every kid from the littlest preschooler to the eldest high schooler had a chance tackle track and field events from running a mile to tossing a softball.
The day culminated in a 50-yard dash where the participants received medals.
And how they took it all in.
From the very beginning, they received an entrance of a lifetime.
The Gilroy High School cheerleaders joined by the Sports Medicine class and teachers formed a spirit tunnel to greet the athletes as they entered the stadium.
There was hardly a youngster—and helper for that matter—without a smile on their face.
“You never know how it is going to go going into it, but it always turns out to be a great day,” said organizer Sam Sauer who works with his wife Tania to put on the even each year. “There’s a huge amount of planning that goes into this and it’s over  in what seems like a blink of an eye. Just to walk around and see everybody smiling, participating, cheering each other on, that’s what it’s all about.”
It was all an impromptu celebration.
“I was here a little early and got to see the kids come off the buses and the looks on their faces like ‘all this was for me!’ Yes it is, we are all here for you!,” Tania said.
From there it just kept getting better.
Heroes for Hope made an appearance with the help of Batman, Batgirl and a Stormtrooper (possibly TK-421 which would explain why he was not at his post).
Sam said they had tried to get Heroes for Hope to attend last year, but they weren’t able to make it work. So this year, they were able to connect and help bring a positive message to the kids along with an anti-bullying speech.
“They let the kids know that everyone can be a hero,” Sam said.
Tania said the kids look forward to the event all year, training in their PE classes in anticipation of the now 16th annual Gifted Games.
The games offer students in Gilroy and Hollister a chance to have their own special day and was started because there wasn’t a Special Olympics event close enough to the area for the students.
“We wanted something local. It started as a very small event just with the high school and has grown to Gilroy and elementary schools,” Sam said.
Tania said the students who graduate still show off their medals and get excited when reliving the experience.
She said some of the kids will wear their medals for the rest of the school year.
The opening mile event the kids were so eager to get their day started they took off on “get ready.”
From there it was a sea of happy humanity.
The kids walked, ran or rode their wheelchairs around the track to the applause of the on lookers.
In the final turn before the start line, some competitors even got high-fives from onlookers who stood along the fence line.
The enthusiasm to help put on the event was a little overwhelming, Sam said.
“Kids were line up to participate. Up until yesterday, I had kids coming to my office asking what they could do to volunteer. Parents and families in the community were calling asking what they could do to volunteer,” Sam said. “We had so much help, we had to turn people away.”
Sam said there was about a one-to-one ratio of athletes to volunteers during the day.
Tania said she is impressed with the buy-in from the community even though they had hosted the event in Hollister the past few years.
“The crowd was full of people. The kids were all very respectful. I had so many families come up and say how the kids were so respectful up in the stands, cheering for the kids,” Tania said.
Sam and Tania both noted how much goes into the event, especially the bussing.
They said just the bussing alone cost $5,000 and required special planning to make sure all the athletes got a chance to participate.
Sam said he is especially thankful to Health Trust’s CEO Frederick J. Ferrer for the continued support of the Gifted Games and for attending this year’s event to see how much his contribution means.
After the mile run, the kids were excused to participate in the field events, which were comprised of lawn dart throwing, soccer goal scoring, a softball toss and a disc golf throw.
All the while, a Gilroy teacher acted as master of ceremonies announcing different kids names and how they were doing in the different events.
One kid even got in net to play keeper relieving the high school soccer players from the duty.