Going for the gold

NB hosts statewide Special Olympics

North Bergen hosted this year’s Special Olympics New Jersey at Bruins Stadium on Saturday, May 7. Teams from Hudson County participated in competitions like the 800-meter walk and run, 100-meter dashes, softball, shot put, javelin throws, and more.
Before the competition all the teams were led by the North Bergen Police around the track for a small walk. Teams held their banners while families and friends whistled on the bleachers.
The torch was lit after the pledge, and the races began.
Sandra Heine from Bayonne’s Hudson Milestone team was a torch runner. She’s been a longtime participator in SONJ, both with a team and individually. Besides being a torch runner Heine took part in the 800-meter run and walk, and the softball throw.

“It’s very nice being a part of the Special Olympics. Even if I don’t win I get excited to be a part of it.” — Jody Czucza.
Another player, Jody Czucza, 37, is with the Bayonne Recreation team. She’s a track player who was preparing for the games since March. She took part in the 800-meter walk, 400-meter walk, 100-meter walk, and 4×1 relay.
“If I win I’m going to the College of NJ for the summer games,” she said. “It’s very nice being a part of the Special Olympics. Even if I don’t win I get excited to be a part of it.” She’s been partaking for 15 years.
North Bergen player Sunny Kothapally, 17, has been with SONJ for two years. He took part in the shotput throw and softball throw.
“This was the first time I did shot put. I did the softball throw last year too,” he said. “If I win I’m going to the summer games!”
Jersey City player Nicolas Rivera, 21, started playing in the SONJ more than eight years ago. Next year he plans to volunteer as a coach with his coach, Benjamin DiFranco. He competed in the softball throw this time.
Amber Concepcion, 13, and her family started their own team, Team Highlighter, for SONJ. The family volunteered for SONJ for 30 years. Her sister, Kira Concepcion, coached her for the 100-meter walk, 50-meter walk, and the dash. The two have attended the games with their parents when they were babies, they said, and they’ve participated in it since they were old enough. Their dad Ruben Concepcion coached Amber for four years before she became a coach herself.
“We’ve used the name Team Highlighter in Relay for Life, so it came from that,” Kira said, and added, “I’ll probably take her out to the mall if she wins.”
“I did a lot of running for this,” Amber said.
The Concepcion family has been volunteering ever since. Everyone who helped set up SONJ was a volunteer to prepare for the games in North Bergen that day.
“We love what we do,” Kira said.

Samantha Meyers can be reached at samantham@hudsonreporter.com .

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