FARMINGTON — Tiffany Schultz, a Special Olympics athlete, told the audience at McGee Park Convention Center that being part of the Special Olympics means she is part of a team.
Schultz spoke as part of the Friday evening opening ceremonies that welcomed special Olympians from all over the state to Farmington for the start of the games. The Special Olympics 2014 Four Corners Invitational continues through Sunday.
"Enjoy and support your teammates," she urged the other athletes in the audience. "No matter how hard the competition may be."
The Special Olympics is a sporting event modeled after the Olympic Games that gives people with disabilities a chance to participate in athletics.
Schultz also spoke about what it means to be dedicated to your team.
"To be dedicated to your team, you have to learn to trust your teammates and your coach," she told the athletes, who burst into applause.
Special Olympians Andy Garcia, 23, and Patrick Carlos, 30, of Santa Fe listened to her speak. The two friends joked together following the ceremony.
Carlos met Garcia last year when Garcia joined Carlos' Special Olympics bowling team. Now Carlos said he and Garcia exercise together in addition to doing Special Olympics.
Both Carlos and Garcia will compete in softball with their team.
"I decided to do it because it's good for me and helps with my knee," Carlos said.
Carlos injured his knee in 2001 and since then has had two knee surgeries and is arthritic in his left knee.
"But, hey, I'm doing pretty good," Carlos said. "I can book it and I can run like crazy."
Carlos and Garcia are coached by Joe Segovia.
"They kind of almost consider each other brother and sister," Segovia said of the athletes he coaches.
Randy Mascorella, the executive director of Special Olympics New Mexico, took time during the ceremony to recognize the "unified partners" — people without disabilities who compete and train with the special Olympians.
"Not often do we call on sport to lead a social movement in our country or our state," Mascorella said.
She said the partnership between the athletes is what makes Special Olympics a social justice movement leader in New Mexico.
"If you play unified, you live unified," she said.
Then she turned to the Special Olympics athletes and had them stand and wave.
"Here's your challenge," she told the athletes. "To compete with all your heart. To respect your teammates and to respect the team you are playing."
IF YOU GO
Softball Competition: 8 to 3 p.m. at Ricketts Park
Aquatics Competition: 8 to 1:30 p.m. at the Farmington Aquatic Center
Victory Dance: 7 to 10 p.m. at McGee Park
Flag Football: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Farmington Soccer Complex