HARLINGEN — Laura Lee cracked a smile as she struck a pose, finger jabbing the air in victory.
“I like your heart,” she said to her mother, Linda Noell.
It was a powerful statement, even more significant from a young woman with Down syndrome.
Laura Lee Noell, 19, grasped her mother’s heart necklace tightly in the gym at Vernon Middle School. The glistening piece of jewelry was a poignant symbol of the woman’s sincerity and zest for life.
That zest has revealed itself repeatedly in her competitions in Special Olympics. She and her classmates in the life skills program at Harlingen High School recently enjoyed success at the 2017 Winter Games.
The Games were presented by Special Olympics Texas in Austin. The students under the name “Stingrays” reveled in their achievement in the bowling event.
“They were ecstatic,” said Freddy Cavazos, adaptive physical education coach for the Harlingen school district.
Cavazos said he took six students from the life skills program and they came in third, fourth and fifth place. This was quite an accomplishment, he said, considering about 1,600 students competed.
“They were proud and happy,” he said. “Everybody got a medal.”
Emily Vega and her fellow Olympians were happy about more than the medals.
“They made new friends and they were exchanging souvenirs,” Cavazos said. “It’s a great event for our kids.”
And they aren’t slowing down yet. They are now preparing for a local event March 31.
Among the events they will challenge are the softball throw and the javelin throw. They will also compete in the 25 meter, 50 meter and 100 meter run. And they’re getting ready.
“We have practice,” Cavazos said. “They are doing very well, progressing very well.”
Emily is always ready to show her spirit. A powerful dose of unbridled spontaneity seems to inhabit her every move. Recently when Cavazos entered the classroom she smiled big and threw her arms up.
A few days later at the Vernon gym she jostled playfully with her mother and with Oziel Ochoa, another adaptive physical education coach.
“Right now, we are practicing two times a week,” Ochoa said. “We are working on the 50-meter run.”
He had planned to hold a practice session at Boggus Stadium but rain cancelled it.
Parents like the Special Olympics activities.
“I’m very happy she’s in this program,” said Emma Vega, looking with satisfaction at her daughter.
Patti Hicks said her son Tony, 22, and the other students look forward to attending Special Olympics events.
“It takes them out of their shell,” she said. “He would not be as far as he is.”