Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wet weather fails to dampen spirits of Special Olympics athletes

JEFFERSON – Build an ark, and they will come. Especially on an August weekend at the local fairgrounds.

Just ask ‘Noah’ Jenner – captain of the Ashtabula County Special Olympics honorary ship. He has become a skilled navigator, on behalf of his group.

The final day of festivities at this year’s county fair was dominated by a deluge of nearly biblical proportions. Rain remained persistent throughout much of the day.

Yet benefit events sponsored by the Truckers Helping Hands organization and motorcycle legend Jesse James made the downpour a minor distraction.

The day offered a truck and motorcycle show like no other.

Celebrated were forty years of competition by members of the ACSO teams. Also remembered was the late Russ ‘Boss Hog’ Starcher, who had been instrumental in motivating the professional drivers to do greater things in the name of goodness.

Truckers Helping Hands has supported the ACSO faithfully, with a network of blue-collar heroes across the region. Olympics Coordinator Bill Jenner observed that their involvement has been a priceless gift for his athletes.

“I don’t know how they do it,” he said. “They top themselves every year. We thank them so much.”

Central in the 2008 event was Mary Kehoe, a four-decade veteran of the Special Olympics. Her participation in the games has endured since the first formal gathering in 1968. Mary’s presence offered a sense of continuity to the meet.

“Yes, I was there,” Kehoe remembered, fondly. “That was a long time ago.”
Her career as a competitor has been unequalled in ACSO history.

Ashtabula photographer Mike Adley reckoned that she was a genuine inspiration to everyone in the group, simply by staying the course.

“When you do anything for forty years, it is amazing,” he said.

Adley himself was recognized by Truckers Helping Hands as a tireless advocate of the Special Olympics. With an endless contribution of resources and labor given to support the group, he has figured prominently in its success.

Jesse James, well known as ‘El Jefe’ of West Coast Choppers, helped draw many thousands of visitors to the judging, with a new line of workwear. Guests lined up at his booth despite the soggy conditions, for autographs and handshakes.

Before long, his black bandanas were everywhere. Even on members of the ACSO team.
Athletes from the group were asked to judge a fleet of trucks and motorcycles during the afternoon. Dozens of participating vehicles in tip-top condition made their task a challenging exercise. But it constituted happy work.

Cheerful competitor William Griswold particularly liked a Ford pickup painted with red-white-and–blue graphics that included the silhouette of a soldier.

“I know the owner,” he boasted, with a grin. “He’s a friend of mine.”

Other rigs displayed football themes, family portraits, and patriotic messages. Some recalled the vintage era of over-the-road transportation. A few displayed the sleek profile of modern highway cruisers, shaped by the wind. Each had a unique personality.

A crowd favorite was the ‘Mystery Machine’ van made famous in Scooby Doo cartoons and big-screen films. Also popular were two and three-wheeled cycles powered by V-8 automobile engines. A stagecoach trike evoked ‘Old West’ flair in the show.
Long-and-lean custom cycles teased the judges with style.

The proliferation of excellence made it difficult to choose.

Yet the sight of James’ own West Coast Choppers semi had the grandstand crowd on its feet. The applause was thunderous – even against the backdrop of storm clouds and uneasy skies.

Awards were presented under an open tent, as Mother Nature blustered away. Rain water poured from every fold and crevice. Yet truckers and athletes alike seemed indifferent to the weather. It was a time to celebrate the spirit of cooperation.
As Bill Jenner said, “It’s about what they can do, not what they can’t.”

Predictably, sunlight peeked through the clouds as final awards for the day were bestowed.

Even after the ceremony had been completed, Jenner was still working. His cell phone rang incessantly. Lists and documents crowded his notebook. Passers-by crowded the ACSO tables. He struggled to concentrate amid the chaos.

“I’ve got more sports coming up,” he exclaimed. “Swimming, bowling, and so on. The paperwork has been coming in, now. There’s so much to do.”

Then, he added, with a smile – “It’s lonely at the top!”

The Ashtabula County Special Olympics athletes for 2008

The Jesse James stand, with promos for his new line of workwear

A patriotic rig

The 'Mystery Machine' van from Scooby Doo

ACSO athletes inspecting the motorcycles

ACSO Coordinator Bill Jenner (left) helping to present an award to photographer Mike Adley (center) for his service and generosity


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