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Special Olympics Competition Spreads Smiles

East Stroudsburg University hosted the annual Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Eastern Fall Sectionals.
East Stroudsburg, Monroe County -- "Hopefully I can just walk faster!"

Rachel Clark couldn't wait to compete in the annual Special Olympics of Pennsylvania Eastern Fall Sectionals. The 16-year-old represented Northumberland and Snyder counties as a long distance walker.

"Special Olympics is a great event," said Rachel Clark. "Because it helps kids with stuff like autism, and that's what I have."

"I'm her biggest cheerleader!" said Diane Clark.

Diane Clark is the team manager, and she's also Rachel's mother. She said her daughter has come a long way since being diagnosed with autism.

"She was very quiet, very timid, very shy, so she started with swimming first, and that just opened her world to sports," said Diane Clark. "Now she does just about every sport we have in the county."

Coach Douglas Heddings has been involved with the Special Olympics for three decades. He said Clark, and the rest of his athletes, exceeded all expectations.

"With these guys, the job is easy to do, because they keep improving all the time," said Heddings.

Events like this one at East Stroudsburg University bring the team closer together.

"The athletes learn how to be part of a team, they learn social skills, and make tons of friends," said Diane Clark.

"They get to know these other athletes and coaches, so when we go to other competitions, everybody knows each other," said Heddings.

And everybody supports each other.

"I learn how to be a great athlete and how to support," said Rachel Clark. "This is what I do!"

The top competitors will advance to the state competition at Villanova University in November.
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