Brave in the Attempt

by Feb 7, 2022South Brunswick, Sports

Two Brunswick County women will represent North Carolina at the Special Olympics USA Games next year.

Special Olympics North Carolina State Games bocce gold medalists Katie Juda, 30, of Southport and Jill Meyer, 32, of Ocean Isle Beach are winging their winning ways to Orlando, Florida, next spring, in an attempt to become national champions. They’re going first class on a donated private jet and will compete at the ESPN Center as TV cameras follow their action.

The two had no idea the organizers were going to choose them. Special Olympics-North Carolina tipped off their parents and asked them to record their daughters’ reactions as they sat home watching the selection committee’s live-stream event on Facebook in August.

It was a happy shock, of course — excitement followed by clapping, cheering family members and in the case of Meyer, a rainfall of tears.

There are a hundred counties in the state and only four bocce players made it to nationals from North Carolina. Meyer couldn’t help giving up even more tears when recollecting the moment.

“I’ve never been selected for anything before. I wasn’t expecting to be because I didn’t even know I was in the running for it. Somebody kept it a really big secret,” she says with an affectionately accusing smile pointed directly at her mother, Tracey Beltz.

Brunswick NC Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a year-round program supporting children and adults who have varied intellectual abilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver started it as a day camp in her back yard on Cape Cod in the 1960s, and it has bloomed into an international organization of renown.

Athletes can choose from many different sports, which give them opportunities to grow physically and socially, improve their overall quality of life and celebrate the joy of competition and inclusion, says Alyssa Coln, Brunswick County’s local coordinator for Special Olympics.

“I am so excited to see Jill and Katie in Orlando next June 5 to 12 competing for our state and county,” Coln says. “They have both worked so hard to earn their spots on the state bocce team. Making it to the Special Olympics USA Games is a huge accomplishment, and I cannot wait to see what both athletes achieve there.”

The USA Games will unite more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean. It will take 20,000 volunteers to make it happen, and organizers expect 125,000 spectators.

Juda has been playing bocce for many years and learned at family get-togethers. She’s only been playing one year competitively. Meyer, who is also the captain of the Brunswick bocce team, started three years ago when friends at Brunswick Community College asked her to give it a try.

Juda’s mother, Diane Juda, is their bocce coach, and the women attribute their prowess to her. While they are confident in their abilities, they know they need to up their game to win in Orlando.

The objective of bocce is to roll large red or green balls closest to a small white one (the pallino). A competitor rolls the pallino down a long rectangular rimmed court to begin the game. Meyer says the goal is for a ball to “kiss” the pallino, while keeping competitor balls away. The balls closest to the pallino score the most points.

Coach Diane says she will work with them on banking the ball off the side rims, enabling them to knock competitor balls away and move their ball closer to the pallino. They’ll also work on aiming, judging distance and assessing the strength needed in getting the ball down the court. Each ball weighs two pounds. Meyer says they would also go online and watch training videos, as she demonstrated proper stance. She is right-handed, so she put her right foot forward pointing to an imaginary pallino, then assessed and motioned her right arm to swing parallel with her foot.

“My foot points where I want the ball to go,” she says.

Coach Diane will receive a training schedule from the state head coach, and they’ll probably practice in person once a week.

The athlete’s credo in Special Olympics is, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” This is not cut-throat competition. It truly is loving, caring, competitive sportsmanship, Meyer’s mother, Tracey, explained. “It’s fun. I like that we are able to go up against each other, and an opportunity to meet each other and getting to meet more friends,” Meyer adds.

Special Olympics is not only about sports, however. Sports are the leverage for the development of the human spirit, the parents note, and their daughters concur. They bring up the sense of teamwork, which is so important in life. Tracey said it is also about leveling the playing field and enabling what it feels like to succeed. Success breeds confidence, which makes one braver to try new things. Special Olympics also fosters compassion.

Brunswick NC Special Olympics bachi

Meyer, for instance, has learned some sign language to help people who are hearing-impaired. A “signer” who was scheduled to assist one such bocce competitor at state games did not arrive in time. The athlete kept faulting, and nobody could tell her what she was doing wrong. Meyer was upset about it but knew enough sign language to calm her and cheer her, and it made a difference. Special Olympics athletes also learn the value of hard work, “stick-to-itiveness,” the importance of practice and experience, pride in a job well done and how to properly interact with others.

Juda says, “I’ve learned to be nice and patient to people and make new friends. Getting along with others gives me joy.” Her attitude and temperament have benefited her in real time. She now has a paid food service worker job in one of the Brunswick Community College cafeterias.

While the athletes are excited about the USA Games, they know they’re many months away, and they have much training to do. But the two explain they are inseparable best friends and teammates, and they will help each other to get there in the best of shape. And the thought of most of their family members traveling to Florida to watch them compete, the private jet, top accommodations and all those thousands of persons competing is keeping their heart rates up. Meyer gets more tears in her eyes and uses her hands to display international sign language — a sign for happy and a sign for cheering.

More Information:
Olympics Brunswick County program is in dire need of year-round volunteers
Local Special Olympics coordinator Alyssa Coln explains that there are hundreds of people in our county who have a variety of intellectual abilities, and Special Olympics has a long way to go to meet the needs of the population. The program can provide as many as 25 sports in a community, but currently only offers bocce, tennis, volleyball, bowling and pickleball (as an exhibition sport). And because of COVID-19 restrictions, there are no in-person competitions right now. Special Olympics Brunswick County desperately needs adults over age 18 to take on roles as coaches and sports assistants. Training is free, and even if you have never coached or assisted before, you can learn.
“We are always looking for more athletes, coaches, assistants and volunteers,” Coln says. “And we want to expand the number of sports here, so there is something everybody can participate in and enjoy.”
To learn more about Special Olympics sports competitions and how to be involved, go to sonc.net. Then reach out to Coln at brunswick@sonc.net or (910) 253-2679.

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