By Laura Kebede
As the rain grew stronger, so did the cheers.
Special Olympics Virginia athletes at the University of Richmond track continued their races canceled Friday due to rain from tropical storm Andrea.
When thunderstorms were introduced in Saturday morning's forecast, all but the indoor swimming and bowling competitions were canceled by 9:30 a.m.
Healthy Athletes, the free vision, dental and hearing screening for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, went on as scheduled.
But most importantly, the annual dance Saturday night was not canceled, Special Olympics Virginia spokeswoman Holly Claytor said.
The athletes, families and volunteers just had too much to celebrate, participants said.
Nicholas LaGanke, 4, was set to run the Young Athletes 25-meter Fun Run on Saturday before the damp forecast canceled the event.
So instead, he used his energy to jump in puddles and play with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's eyeglasses when he picked him up. Cantor met Nicholas' mother Traci LaGanke of Glen Allen when she came to Capitol Hill as an advocate for the National Down Syndrome Society.
Special Olympics is not just for those with special needs, LaGanke said. It's for the community to understand their "differing abilities."
"As much as this is for Nicholas, this is for Jacob (her son who does not have a developmental disability) and his peers," she said.
"It's an exciting thing to be here and see the community support," Cantor said. "To know they can have a tremendous impact."
Pam Mines of Chesterfield added it's also for families with children with special needs to grasp the wide spectrum of intellectual and developmental disabilities.
"There's no person the Special Olympics doesn't touch," Mines said. "When you're in this situation, you just want your child to participate in something."
This was the first year competing for Mines' daughter Sydnee Baker, 11. She is determined to try every sport in the Special Olympics.
"It's much better than the regular Olympics," mostly because people don't have to wait four years for it to happen again, she said.
Mines' son James Perry Mines, 9, affectionately known as "J.P." has participated since he was 3 years old. Last year was the first year he competed in unified soccer, which mixes children with and without disabilities on teams.
"Their differences are acknowledged, but their differences aren't looked at," she said of the organization's consideration and inclusion. "Everybody has their own identity."