Athletes from Loudon and Monroe counties all walked away winners Wednesday when they competed in the annual Fort Loudoun Area Special Olympics at Loudon High School.

“It’s a very special day,” Robin Bowen, Fort Loudoun Area Special Olympics director, said. “These athletes don’t normally get to participate in something that they’re highlighted in, so it was all about the day being for them. They get to run their events, throw their softball, do their jump and play bocce ball. Seeing their smiles was all worth it.”

The Special Olympics Organization of Tennessee is designed to provide year-round athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The events allow special needs children and adults the ability to develop physical fitness, along with demonstrating courage, experiencing joy and sharing friendships.

This year’s Special Olympics was the largest to date, Bowen said, with 220 athletes competing.

Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School’s Dakota Dixon participated in several events and enjoyed spending time with teammates.

“I did the 200-meter and 100-meter runs,” Dixon said. “I had a lot of fun. The most fun thing to see is seeing everybody train hard and have fun.”

Loudon High School head track coach Tony Rutherford helped organize the event. He also serves as a special education teacher at LHS.

“It’s a blessing just to even be associated with Special Olympics,” Rutherford said. “Those kids, they work so hard. It’s a culmination of the school year where they get to go out, enjoy and just have fun from all the hard work they’ve put in all year. It was wonderful to see them out there just having fun.”

The track team, as well as other LHS clubs and student organizations, helped put on the event.

“It’s great and we wish we could host it every year,” Rutherford said. “We really would love to do that. This year, we were able to bring out our high school band. We had the cheerleaders involved in it and our community was really behind it. We had the policemen and had motorcycles running around the track. It was just a wonderful time. A lot of the fans enjoyed it a whole bunch.

“... It’s wonderful to help out and be a part of that,” he added. “It also teaches these kids how blessed they are. A lot of these kids enjoy this more than just doing a track meet. They love this — being around the kids and being part of the moment.”

Bowen was thrilled with the work put into making the event go smoothly.

“They did a fabulous job,” she said. “They helped us set up, they helped us tear down, they helped us run the events and they provided volunteers. It was just an awesome day with their help. Tony and Allison Rutherford are the two that ran it and they did great.”

Timothy Hutt, a member of the LHS track team, enjoyed being able to help and support his friends.

“I’ve helped with it a lot,” Hutt said. “I helped with the 100-meter, 50-meter walk and just all of them. I came to the finish line and put kids over there. It’s fun to interact with the kids that have special needs. I enjoy it and I think the kids have a lot of fun out here with it.”

This year’s games were bittersweet for Bowen, since she will be retiring as director after serving for eight years.

“Being the area director has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “Meeting with all the teachers and the coaches and getting to know the athletes has been special. I’ve seen them grow each year. Each year that I’ve done it, they come back and they’ve gotten better. My whole family’s involved. My husband helps. My daughter is an athlete and she helps out with everything. My son will go as a partner when we do state games for bocce ball. It’s been a family thing and we all enjoy it together.”