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Locals bring home gold

AMES, Iowa – Two Hertford County High School seniors have returned from Iowa with three gold medals and two silver medals to go along with another top five finish.

Vanessa Peters, 17 of Murfreesboro, and Lewis Bowser, 17 of Menola were two of the 3,000 athletes from all 50 states who competed at the 2006 Special Olympics National Games in Ames, Iowa July 2-7.

Peters, a two-time world champion, ran away from the field in the 200 meters and ran second leg on the boys championship 4×100 meter relay team from North Carolina.

Peters was the only female to race in the boys relay and was also the only female athlete to break 30 seconds in the 200 meters, a feat she accomplished twice at the games.

Peters, who won two gold medals in the 2003 World Games in Dublin Ireland, also managed to capture the silver medal in the long jump.

Bowser, competing in his first national level event, brought home the gold medal in the standing long jump and captured the silver medal in the softball throw to go along with his fourth place finish in the boys 50 meter run.

The National Games in Iowa was the first event of its kind here in the United States.

As is usually the case, Special Olympics hosted this event in grand fashion with celebrity appearances, musical performances and transportation via private jets for its athletes.

For Bowser, it was his first time traveling in the plush accommodations.

&uot;Man, the private jet was really cool,&uot; Bowser said. &uot;The whole event was a blast!&uot;

Bowser said he particularly enjoyed the fireworks displays, although the opportunity to compete in preliminaries and heats for his events was just as memorable.

Aside from competing at the highest level, both athletes had significant roles in the opening ceremonies, serving as Global Messengers from their home state.

Global Messengers are tasked with spreading the message and vision of Special Olympics as well as the benefits gained by competing in the events.

Peters, who also competes for the Hertford High School track team, has aspirations of having a bigger role in the organization.

&uot;I’ve been competing for nearly nine years,&uot; Peters said. &uot;I hope to be able to continue competing and someday be a coach.&uot;

J.J. Beale, Special Olympics Hertford County Coordinator, says she couldn’t be prouder of Peters and Bowser, but looks forward to an increase in community support.

&uot;There are 20 other sports that our area athletes could compete in,&uot; Beale stated.

&uot;The program now is school based, but we need support from the private sector as well as families to allow our athletes to develop to the level that Lewis and Vanessa have.&uot;

Beale noted that along with the school system, the ViQuest Center has done a lot to support their effort.

Co-coordinator Vicky Blanchard reiterated Beale’s sentiments.

&uot;Last fall we competed in bowling,&uot; Blanchard said. &uot;We’d like to see more events locally.&uot;

Beale and Blanchard explained that it’s not always financial support Special Olympics seeks from the community.

&uot;In order to coach our athletes, an individual has to attend a training seminar,&uot; Beale explained. &uot;We’d like to see more individuals get involved in coaching as well as mentoring.&uot;

Peters and Bowser are now looking forward to the next world championships, being held in Shanghai, China in 2007.

The two students collectively said there was only one aspect of the summer games that disappointed them.

&uot;We didn’t get to miss any school,&uot; Bowser joked. &uot;But that’s okay&uot;.