MORRISVILLE — Team NC had a memorable performance at the Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey last week. The basketball team took home a bronze medal, the soccer team won gold and Samuel Flores won gold in his division in events’ first-ever triathlon event.
Greg Miller has been coaching the Team NC Special Olympics’ basketball team for 12 years. This year’s team has been together for three years with ages ranging from 15 to 36 years old. They lost to New Hampshire for a chance to compete for gold, but defeated Pennsylvania to win the bronze medal.
“The experience was overwhelmingly fantastic,” Miller said. “They were truly like kings and queens out there.”
Samuel “Sammy” Flores competed in his second Special Olympics, but this was the first time he competed in the triathlon event. The 23-year-old won gold in his division and was ranked second overall on his first try.
“It felt really good,” Flores said. “I didn’t care if I got first, second or third, as long as I finished the triathlon. I am proud of what I’ve done.”
Flores almost didn’t make the Special Olympics after undergoing surgery for a fractured wrist. However, he met up with Coach Chris Underwood in January and the two have been training together to prepare for the games.
“It’s easy working with Sammy,” Underwood said. “I make the schedule and he pretty much follows it. I ask him to do something and he does it. He’s a very good athlete to coach.”
Underwood had to hold back tears when he explained the moment where he watched Flores win his first gold medal.
“It was something I won’t forget. It was great,” he said.
Sammy’s father, Tony Flores, shared his experience about having a gold medal-winning son.
“Sam was phenomenal out there,” Flores said. “It was just speechless of what he did. It’s not so much the medal, but how he performed and the time frame that he did it in is just amazing. He’s our hero right now.”
Tony Flores also coached the soccer team to an undefeated record, outscoring opponents 31-2 during the entire event, eventually winning gold.
“These guys have been together for 15 years now and they know how to play together,” Flores said. “They went out there and played like a team from the goalie to the center. Everybody knew exactly what they needed to do. They were outstanding.”
Overall, there were 3,500 participants in the Special Olympics this year; forty-five of them represented North Carolina. There were 12 sports that the athletes competed in, with the triathlon event in its first year at the games. Next year, the International Special Olympics will be held in Los Angeles.
“It was one of the best weeks I’ve ever had,” Tony Flores said. “The people there were fantastic and they treated the athletes like superstars.”