Special Olympics Athletes Excel in Ocean City

Special Olympics athlete Mia Palmer, of Upper Township, competes in the mini-javelin throw.


From javelin throws to sprints to distance running, 98 Special Olympics athletes from Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties competed in track and field Sunday at Carey Stadium in Ocean City.

Ocean City hosts the athletes each year. The meet helps them qualify for the Special Olympics New Jersey State Summer Games that will be held at The College of New Jersey from June 9-11.

“Special Olympics events will always be welcome in Ocean City, and I’d love to show our full support,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in a statement urging the community to attend the event and cheer on the athletes.

One of the winning athletes, Kalin Raynis, 19, of Delmont, N.J., stood at the podium, victorious among his peers.

“It’s fun here,” Kalin said while surrounded by family members who congratulated him.

While he is also a runner, he won a gold medal for his skills throwing the shotput. And it was his first try at it in any track meet, he said.

“I like it,” Kalin said with a smile.

He didn’t have too much time to chat before he participated in a relay race.

Kalin Raynis, of Delmont, N.J., celebrates his gold medal with volunteer Peter Royek.

Kalin’s grandfather, Richard Diatchenko, of Berlin, N.J., said he is so proud of his grandson for all the hard work he puts into the meets and for his determination.

“It’s a great experience for him. He really enjoys it,” Diatchenko noted.

He also remarked about the staff and volunteers who help make the event possible.

“What they do for the kids is so terrific,” Diatchenko said.

One of the volunteers, Peter Royek, made a two-hour drive Sunday to Ocean City from his home in Rockaway Township, Morris County. On Saturday, he volunteered for the Special Olympics track and field meet in Hackettstown, Warren County, for athletes in Warren, Morris and Sussex counties.

“It’s all about the athletes,” Royek explained of his joy of volunteering at the Special Olympics.

Royek served as Kalin Raynis’ partner at Sunday’s meet, accompanying him to each event and even serving as his cheerleader.

“I made sure everyone was cheering for him. It’s my job,” Royek said, smiling.

Members of the gold medal Sea Isle City Islanders relay team celebrate their win during the awards ceremony.

All of the athletes were cheered on by hundreds of enthusiastic spectators at Carey Stadium.

Tommy Cura, 23, of Cape May, held a flower and looked to the sky in celebration of his gold medal as part of the winning Sea Isle City Islanders relay team. The relay team also included Christina Vassar, 32, of Erma, Maureen Larsen, 35, of Sea Isle, and Jeffrey DiAntonio, 38, of Wildwood.

“Perfect – like a champion,” is how DiAntonio said he felt after receiving his gold medal.

Debby and Tom Cura, the parents of Tommy Cura, said they were so proud of their son.

Tommy’s brother, Jack Cura, 18, called his big brother a huge inspiration.

“He’s awesome. He really is an inspiration,” Jack Cura said. “He always makes people smile.”

Jackie Adams, an employee in Ocean City’s Community Services Department, said the participation was wonderful and the event is always greatly supported by the community.

“The athletes are fantastic, and it is so amazing to see the response from the community during the opening ceremony,” Adams said. “This is a huge event. There are so many moving parts and, honestly, just to see the community come out and support the Special Olympics like this is just so moving to me.”

Adams noted that each year the Ocean City Fire Department plays a big role in the event, from being a part of the parade of athletes’ ceremony in the morning as well as awarding the medals after each of the events. There were also Ocean City police on hand and members of the Margate Police Department.

Runners circle the track at Carey Stadium while competing in the 1,500-meter race.

Another Special Olympics athlete, Mia Palmer, 19, of Upper Township, attends Ocean City High School. She likes to win, she said.

“I’d like to make it to the states and then the nationals,” she said of advancing to the next levels of competition. “I have a lot of fun.”

And judging by how well she threw her mini-javelin, it was clear she has plenty of athletic ability.

“She has been doing this for 10 years and loves it,” Mia’s mother, Lisa Palmer, said.

“We are so proud of her. She always comes out and competes as hard as she can,” Mia’s father, Ford Palmer, said. “She doesn’t like to lose.”

Although the Special Olympics athletes were the main focus of the track and field meet, the event drew other groups as well.

Friends, family members and co-workers joined with Philadelphia schoolteacher Kristen Blizard for a team dubbed “Kristen’s Krusaders” during a walk to raise money for multiple sclerosis awareness.

“It means everything. They are the most loving and supportive people in my life,” Blizard said of her team members.

Blizard, a resident of Langhorne, Pa., was diagnosed with MS in 2003. She had encouraging words for others who suffer from MS, a disorder affecting the central nervous system.

“Keep having faith. Hope for a cure. We’re going to keep walking until we find one,” she said.

Kristen Blizard, center, is joined by supporters for her “Kristen’s Krusaders” MS fundraising team.