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Special Olympics Forsyth County athletes get back to competing under pandemic restrictions
Battle of the Barbells
Special Olympics Forsyth County leaders pose with their powerlifting team before beginning the competition Saturday. Photo courtesy of Linda Fitzpatrick.

Special Olympics Forsyth County partnered with the parks and recreation department to hold its first competition event since the pandemic began, the Battle of the Barbells weightlifting tournament, at Central Park on Saturday, April 17.

The organization has held the event annually since 2018 at a local church, inviting teams from throughout the state to compete. As the pandemic began last year, however, Special Olympics Georgia set strict guidelines to keep athletes and families safe. Since then, Forsyth’s teams have not been able to gather to train or compete.

Powerlifting Coach Mark Keesee said that all changed recently when they approached Jeff Jones, supervisor of the therapeutic program through the parks and recreation department, to set up a weightlifting program for their athletes to begin training again.

Through the partnership, the athletes have trained for the last few months at Central Park where they have access to a larger space. Keesee said they were all excited to see each other and interact again in person, lifting weights for the first time in nine months.

“It’s been fun coming back,” Keesee said. “We’re just trying to get it going again.”

After just a few months of training, Jones worked with Special Olympics Forsyth County to then plan for the Battle of the Barbells, receiving permission and guidelines for the event from the state organization.

“We were asked to host it, and we were glad to do it,” Jones said. “That’s what our therapeutic recreation program is all about, and it gave an opportunity for them to get back to competing, which is something they haven’t been able to do in over a year.”

Battle of the Barbells
Jeff Jones, the supervisor for the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation therapeutic program, set up an iPad behind the competition mat to allow competitors in Fort Valley and community spectators see the powerlifters during the event. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Forsyth’s team gathered at the recreation center at Central Park where their families watched, socially distanced within the building’s banquet room. Jones broadcast the event for other community spectators live from Zoom alongside one other team, the Kay Center Tigers, who broadcast from their home gym.

During the event, the weightlifters competed in bench press, deadlift and squat contests. After only a few months of training for the event, Keesee said the athletes were more than ready to compete.

“They are very excited, and they haven’t lost a beat either,” Keesee said. “After working out for a couple of months and getting prepared for this, they’re still doing their personal best, so they’re really dedicated to it.”

Local Coordinator Linda Fitzpatrick, along with other Special Olympics Forsyth leaders and families, thanked Jones and the therapeutic recreation program for their help in organizing the competition and bringing their athletes together in person again.

They also thanked the West Forsyth High School football team, whose players volunteered to help during the event Saturday.

“I’m just excited to be back and having the kids and athletes work out again,” Keesee said.

Battle of the Barbells
Volunteers from West Forsyth High School’s football team helped to set up the bench as athletes prepared to compete. - photo by Sabrina Kerns