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Eric Byrd (right) forged lasting relationships while at the Special Olympics World Games in China.

 

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Geneseo's Byrd Soars at Special Olympics World Games

“It was an honor,” says Eric Byrd, humbly, about capturing not one but two gold medals at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games, where he competed in a field of 7,500 athletes from more than 160 countries.

 

The games were held October 2-11 in Shanghai, China. Both of Eric’s medals are for swimming events: the 50-meter butterfly and the 4-by-100-meter medley relay. He finished the butterfly in 40.10 seconds and his relay team finished in 5:29:32. He also finished sixth in the 100 meter freestyle.

 

Eric, 27, lives in Geneseo, at the Tuscarora Avenue Individualized Residential Alternative (“IRA”) operated by The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming. A 2000 graduate of Avon High School, Eric is one of approximately 80 Arc consumers who live at a dozen agency IRAs throughout the community.

 

"First of all, it was a big surprise that I got picked for the Special Olympics World Games," Eric says, upon return from his 2 ½ week journey to Asia, his second international Special Olympics competition after previously competing in Greece. "I guess they counted all my medals and decided I should go. I was very excited and proud."

 

To qualify for the Special Olympic World Games, athletes such as Eric must win several competitions. They train and compete locally, and then advance to state competition. Success at the state level can attract the attention of scouts looking for potential athletes to go to the World Games.

 

Eric's first stop on his trip was Albany, for a celebratory dinner and send-off party for athletes from all over the state. While there, the athletes visited a museum, rode an aqueduct boat, danced, sang, and got to know each other in general. Next stop: Los Angeles, and another send off party for the plane ride to China.

 

"The long trip was from Los Angeles to China," Eric explains. "It was about 18 hours with a stop in Japan. We were going with the sun, but I did my best to sleep and watch movies."

 

Upon landing, it was easy for Eric to see how Shanghai earned its nickname, the “Paris of the East.” The city has outstanding art, architecture, strong economy, and openness to the West. Eric developed an immediate fascination with the culture of the city and of China in general.

 

"China was great," he says, of his first impression. Soon after checking in to the hotel, he was off to the World Games opening ceremonies, which included celebrity appearances by action star Jackie Chan and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Eric wasn’t there to gaze at the stars – It was his peer athletes of all nationalities that really captured his attention.

 

"The athletes were from all over the world, and that's what made the competition so tough. But we pulled through," Eric says, proudly.

 

When he wasn’t competing, Eric found time to build friendships with athletes from other countries by trading souvenir pins. He also went sight seeing, and visited a Chinese host family's home, where he tried his hand at making dumplings. Eric’s busy schedule left him very little time to be homesick, he says.

 

"At the end of my trip, I wanted to stay,” Eric says. “But I couldn't eat any more Chinese food," he adds, joking.

 

Eric admits that he’s gained minor celebrity status since returning home. His story had garnered some media attention, which Eric’s four housemates and the staff at the IRA had followed closely while he was away. "They are very impressed," Eric says. "They were very excited because of what they read in the newspapers."

 

"I also get stopped at Tops all the time when I'm working," he adds.

Eric has worked at Tops in Avon for about 9 years, doing maintenance and wrangling carts. The store generously donated cake and ice cream for a homecoming party held October 29 at The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming headquarters in Mount Morris.

 

Special Olympics is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. Its World Summer Games is the world's largest sporting event of 2007. Special Olympic athletes of all ability levels competed in 25 different Olympic-type and demonstration sports. It was bolstered by 40,000 volunteers, 3,500 event officials, and thousands of families, friends, spectators, and journalists from every continent.

 

The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming is the two-county region’s largest not-for-profit organization serving people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Its Residential program provides safe, secure community housing for consumers of all ages and abilities.

 

For additional information, contact The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming Public Relations Director Jeff Thomas at jthomas@lwarc.org or (585) 658-2828 ext. 128.