MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Athletes went for the gold Tuesday at the Myrtle Beach Pelicans' stadium for the very first time in a special event residents were able to take part in.
Each year, the community comes together all over the county to raise awareness and cheer on locals at the Special Olympics.
The festivities kicked off at 8 a.m., Tuesday at Socastee High School. Law enforcement officers began the 7.5-mile run from the school to TicketReturn.com stadium.
Called Heroes Helping Heroes, law enforcement ran with a torch to symbolize the real one used during the Olympic Games.
Once they reached the Pelicans' field, they were greeted by about 1,000 athletes, buddies, volunteers and spectators to light the Special Olympic cauldron, signaling the start of the 2016 games.
About 300 Special Olympians of all ages competed in sporting events from a softball throw to a 150-meter dash and long jump. There were five different events and all of the athletes were signed up in different heats. Each had a buddy to help them along the way.
Another special change this year was that the buddies were students from 22 different Horry County schools. If they volunteered as a buddy, the kids were bussed to TicketReturn.com Field to help out their Special Olympian in the athlete's two chosen events.
Erik Karney is both a lance corporal in the Horry County Police Department's water rescue division and the area director for the Special Olympics. His hope was the friendships formed between the buddies and the athletes would continue into the classroom.
"That way, not only do they build that relationship here at the spring games, but they also continue that relationship when they bring it back to their base school," Karney said.
The Pelicans came to the director for the Special Olympics and donated the field as the host location. The team is just one of a number of local places that volunteered their services and time for the cause.
Other local volunteers came from Ripley's, Wal-Mart and charity organizations. Roughly 500 volunteers took part in Tuesday's event.
"When the Pelicans come to you with an offer to have it at their field and at their stadium ... all I thought about was the athletes. All I thought was how neat would it be for them to participate here at Pelicans Field," Karney said.
About 100 of the athletes will move on to the South Carolina Special Olympics, which are held the first weekend of May. One local athlete won a gold medal at the World Special Olympics and was in attendance Tuesday. This was also the first year first-, second- and third-place finishers received medals. All participants were given ribbons.