CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 700 athletes from all over West Virginia converged on the University of Charleston's Laidley Field for the state Special Olympics Saturday.
On a sunny afternoon, volunteers and athletes meandered between tents to snack on sandwiches and watch family and friends compete.
"They're never defeated," said Tabitha Lair, a volunteer coordinator. "They don't understand the word defeat."
The Special Olympics is an annual sporting event for children and adults with disabilities.
Athletes competed in track and field, swimming, golf, tennis, bocce, cycling and softball events.
Some participants sang classic tunes like "Sweet Caroline" and "Country Roads" at the karaoke stand by the entrance to Laidley Field on Charleston's East End.
Down by the track, competitors launched themselves into a sandpit for the long jump. Others danced the hokeypokey on a patch of grass behind the stadium. One pair of brothers from Marshall County marched purposefully around the track during the 100-meter walking competition.
Whether the athletes win or lose, they simply enjoy the competition and camaraderie facilitated by the Special Olympics, Lair said.
That attitude creates an upbeat atmosphere that permeates the whole stadium.
"You cannot be unhappy here," Lair said.
Bianca Brorn, a volunteer, agreed.
"It makes you really appreciate life," Brorn said as she spread mayonnaise on her sandwich.
This year, the Special Olympics drew the best volunteer turnout Lair has ever seen.
"I have volunteers coming out of my ears," Lair said. "It's the best problem in the world."
Lair said that many people are initially hesitant to volunteer time, but when volunteers arrive, they come to understand how "special" the Special Olympics can be.
"Most people are trepidatious until they get here," Lair said. "But once you're here, you see how wonderful it is."
That's why volunteers often return to the Olympics to volunteer again and again, Lair said.
Phyllis Potterfield, for example, has volunteered at the Special Olympics for more than thirty years.
Potterfield organized awards ceremonies, where athletes who climbed the podium to smile proudly for the families, teammates and friends crowded on the pavement below.
The Special Olympics provides an environment where participants can be their best, Potterfield said.