"This is the very best day of my life!" Kameryn Jackson said as he stood on a first-place podium Friday during the South Callaway Special Olympics.
The Fulton student had just won the 100-meter dash and was beaming as he stretched his arms up in celebration of the second gold medal on his chest. Earlier, Jackson won a throwing competition for his first gold medal of the day.
"A butterfly flew over me and gave me good luck," he added.
Friday marked the third Special Olympics at the South Callaway School District. In those three years, organizer Angie Trammell said, the event has grown to 415 athletes, coaches and volunteers — more than twice the first year's 170.
Friday's group included 78 young athletes, ages 3-7, and 99 regular athletes, ages 8-21.
The young athletes participate in non-competitive events, including hula hoops, play parachutes and mini hurtles. Regular athletes are in it to win, competing in track and field events, such as running, wheelchair races, T-ball throw and long jump.
Even though only the top three in each group get medals, there are plenty to go around. With the athletes competing in the Special Olympics, Trammell said, it's important for the event to "focus on their abilities and not their disabilities."
"The thing I like about it is a lot of times this is the first time that any event has been about these particular kids," she said. "You know, they go to their brothers' and sisters' ball games and do all of that, but a lot of times, this is the only time that there's an event based on them."
The athletes come from nine area school districts: South Callaway, New Bloomfield, Linn, Russellville, Chamois, Fulton, St. Elizabeth, Fatima and Community R-6. Of course, many parents come as well to be a part of their child's excitement, often resulting in "happy tears," Trammell said.
That excitement could be seen during the athletes' parade, which kicked off the event Friday morning. Elementary and middle school students from South Callaway packed the stands to cheer as athletes walked around the track, waving and smiling ear to ear.
"We've had kids that will, you know, get medals, and they refuse to take them off for weeks," Trammell said. "Like, the parents have to bribe them to take the medal off to take a shower, and that's important."
She said the impact is why she first worked to bring Special Olympics to South Callaway.
"I had been to another local track meet in Hermann and just kind of fell in love with the whole idea," she said. " And nothing was like that in our area, you know, for schools more toward us. And so I thought, 'You know, we could do this.' And we did."
For Jackson's part, he wasn't too concerned with history or how long he'd end up wearing his medals. It was his fourth Special Olympics, he still had the long jump to do, and he was busy having fun.
"I like that it's pretty much a fun thing to do," Jackson said. "I get medals, and also this is pretty much the first time I got gold medals."
This article was edited at 2 p.m. Oct. 8, 2018, to correct the spelling of Kameryn Jackson's first name.