Celebrating Differences : All 300 Participants in the County’s Special Olympics Are Winners


Like hundreds of proud parents at Ventura County’s Special Olympics on Saturday, Dan and Mary Severns cheered with abandon and snapped countless photographs as their daughter crossed the finish line of a 50-meter race.

But at an event that celebrated people who are different from the norm, the Severnses seemed especially different.

It was no fluke of genetics that brought a little girl with cerebral palsy into their Ventura home.


It was their choice.

Less than a year ago, 7-year-old Pinky was in an orphanage in Calcutta, left by a single mother who felt unable to care for a child who can barely speak and whose limbs are almost constantly in motion.

But after seeing Pinky on an adoption agency’s videotape, Dan and Mary Severns decided they were up to the challenge.

“A lot of people ask why we did it,” said Dan Severns, a machinist. “We just love raising kids.”

The couple also have a 13-year-old daughter, Jessica, a 10-year-old son, Andy, and 5-year-old Bodhi, who like Pinky was adopted through an agency in India. All three were yelling encouragement as Pinky came from behind to finish fourth among seven contestants.

“Yea, Pinky!” Bodhi cheered. “She did good.”

Like all of the more than 300 special athletes competing at Ventura High School, Pinky stood on the winners’ platform and received a pink ribbon just for taking part.

Her cerebral palsy--a disorder of the nervous system that robs her of muscle control--prevented Pinky from saying more than “yes” when the emcee asked if she enjoyed the race. But as she stepped down from the stage, she flashed an eloquent smile and ran to hug her big sister.


“Everybody gets an award,” said Renee Gomez, coordinator of adaptive recreation programs for the city of Ventura, which co-sponsored the event with Ventura County Special Olympics. “It’s so they can say, ‘I did it,’ and feel special. That’s the whole point of this, to reward participation.”

It was the county’s 25th annual Special Olympics track and field competition, Gomez said, and it drew competitors from across the county.

One of the largest contingents came from the Conejo Recreation and Park District, which fielded about 50 athletes ranging in age from 8 to 50. Among them was Donald Geagan, 30, of Thousand Oaks, who was waiting to compete in a wheelchair race.

“I like this,” Geagan said. “The atmosphere is good.”

Cerebral palsy has not prevented Geagan from attending classes at Moorpark College, where he is studying to be a journalist. His girlfriend, Chris Lowe, 24, of Thousand Oaks, was also competing in the wheelchair race.

Fifteen-year-old Chris Morse of Simi Valley was hoping to find a girlfriend. “I want to impress the girls,” said Chris, who has a mental disability but no shortage of self-confidence.

“I might be the fastest runner,” said Chris, a veteran of three Special Olympics who was waiting to take part in 200-meter and 800-meter races.


The event relied heavily on volunteers. Dell Galea of Simi Valley said she became involved in Special Olympics several years after her handicapped son died at age 3.

“You don’t know how rewarding this is until you experience it,” she said as she served soft drinks to thirsty young athletes.

Mary Severns said she and her husband did some long, hard thinking before adopting Pinky. Through the Easter Seal Society, they met other parents of disabled children.

Most of them have gone through a period of guilt “where they wonder, ‘What did I do?’ ” said Mary Severns, who works with mentally retarded patients at Camarillo State Hospital.

“We kind of chose this, but there’s the same kind of grief” over Pinky’s limitations, she said.

On a trip to the mall, for example, Pinky can expect a round of stares from curious children.


“She takes it better than I do,” her mother said. “She just runs up and hugs them.”