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Rockdale Special Olympics holds 5K fundraiser

Volunteers prepare their athletes at the starting line for a Rockdale County Special Olympics track and field event.

Volunteers prepare their athletes at the starting line for a Rockdale County Special Olympics track and field event.

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Elementary school students compete in the Rockdale County Special Olympics 25-meter race.

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A Rockdale County Special Olympics athlete is all smiles as he shows off the medal he won during a competition.

Erika Sellers said she can't talk about Rockdale County Special Olympics without tearing up because the program, for which she's volunteered since 2008, means so much to her.

"I just do it for the kids," said Sellers, who doesn't have any family members with special needs.

As chairperson of the Rockdale County Special Olympics, Sellers is helping to organize the second annual Rock on Rockdale 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run, set for March 23, with registration at 7 a.m., Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. and 5K at 9 a.m. Cost is $25 and all proceeds support the Rockdale County Special Olympics.

The route starts at the Whistle Post Tavern and makes a loop through the streets of Olde Town Conyers on Main St., College Avenue and Springwood Drive, ending back at the Whistle Post.

It's a mostly flat route, said Sellers, ideal for runners or walkers of any level.

Sellers said last year's race drew 170 people (she only expected to have about 60) and included families, special-needs participants and avid runners. Some walked the 5K, some ran and others combined running and walking.

Participants certainly do not have to be seasoned runners, Sellers said.

"We had a broad spectrum of people," she said, adding that one runner pushed his brother-in-law in a wheelchair for the race, and another pushed his child in a stroller.

The 2012 race generated roughly $5,000, a significant portion of the $12,000 operating budget for the all-volunteer Rockdale County Special Olympics, Sellers said.

Rockdale County Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Sports include track and field, swimming, basketball, bowling, volleyball, softball and bocce, among others. Funds pay for uniforms, travel expenses and event registration, including for the four state game gatherings each year.

Rockdale County Special Olympics serves more than 200 athletes, the majority of whom are from Rockdale but some hail from Newton and Gwinnett.

Mark Schmetzer's son Sean Schmetzer participated in Rockdale County Special Olympics for about 10 years while in school.

"He got socialization and friends and got out in public and got to do what other kids did in high school," Schmetzer said.

Schmetzer said joining in the games always brings smiles to the athletes' faces.

"Whether they finish first, or fourth or last, they all feel like winners. They get recognition, and the crowd cheers, and for them, it just means a lot," said Schmetzer, who will volunteer at the 5K.

Sellers said she is looking forward to another great turn out this year.

"It's just amazing to see the community come out and support the Special Olympics," Sellers said. "Hopefully it will be a beautiful day to just come and support the run and I'm excited to see people who came out last year and hopefully we'll get new people."

Participants may register at www.active.com or visit www.rockonrockdale.com to print out a registration form, which can be mailed to: Rockdale Special Olympics, 310 Cambridge Way, Covington, GA 30016. Participants may also register on the day of the race.

For more information, call Erika Sellers at 770-833-0907 or email erikaesellers@comcast.net.

If you go

What: 2nd Annual Rock on Rockdale 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run

When: March 23, registration begins at 7 a.m., with fun run at 8:30 a.m. and 5K at 9 a.m.

Where: Whistle Post Tavern, 935 Railroad St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: $25 per entry; proceeds benefit Rockdale County Special Olympics