Local Special Olympics were canceled so a Birmingham 6th grader organizes her own

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MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. (WIAT) — On the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, events are still being canceled, including the Birmingham area Special Olympics.

Sixth-grader Caroline Russ made it a personal mission to make that experience possible for the students at Cherokee Bend Elementary.

One of the athletes, Trotter, throws a ball through the hoops.

After a year spent indoors, canceling the Birmingham area Special Olympics was an unexpected blow. Caroline Russell was as disappointed as anyone when the games were canceled.

“It’s really sad because the kids don’t get the normalcy that they get every year.”

Russell felt empowered to give the students with disabilities at her school the closest thing.

“A day for them to just have a little bit of normalcy and have a Special Olympics day where they can be the center of attention and have so much fun.”

Athlete, Audrey, rides through the crowd of classmates cheering her and her friends on.

Working with the school’s special education teacher and principal, Russel drew up the plan for the athletes – Audrey,  Trotter, Joshua and Libby – a young lady CBS 42 first reported on in 2016.

“We’ll walk through the hallways and students from the school will cheer the students onto the field,” she said. “That’s gonna be when we’re doing the events, participating.”

Russell took the initiative to work with an occupational therapist to decide which events would be best for the students.

“We wanted to make sure each station could highlight each child’s abilities and look at their abilities instead of their disability,” Russell said.

Part of the obstacle course Caroline designed with an occupational therapist.

Using appropriately sized balls, distances from each goal, plenty of water and balloons and more, Russell designed games and an accessible obstacle course for them. Parents came to see the action too.

“I wasn’t shocked it was Caroline,” Lane Hagan, Libby’s father said. “She has a heart of gold. Any day that we celebrate the Special Olympics and disabled children is a victory and a win. It’s something I never thought I’d be a part of but I’m so glad to be here and celebrating these kids.”

The day was capped off with an award ceremony celebrating each of the stars, featuring members of the school band.

With many thanks to Caroline, the 2021 Special Olympics at Cherokee Elementary School was a success.

“I’m so excited that they’re able to have this day today.”

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