The Maui High unified team blazed to victory in two events at the Island Movers/HHSAA Track and Field State Championships on Saturday.
The Sabers’ Jerimiah Abut, Edwin Hayman, Gavin Gilon and Waiohinu Cuello won the 4-x-100 relay and the 4-x-400 relay in front of the cheering and packed crowd at Kamehameha’s Kunuiakea Stadium.
In both events, they reached the finish line before five other teams.
Jessica Adkins, who is a head of a Special Olympics delegation and also teaches a unified leadership class at Maui High, is the Sabers’ coach.
The unified teams (two from Maui, two from Hilo, and two from Pahoa) that competed were all made up of two special education students (called athletes) and two non-special education students (called partners).
Abut is a senior athlete and Hayman is a freshman athlete, and Gilon and Cuello are senior partners.
“Everybody has their special abilities,” Adkins said. “Some people are fast in sports, some people are smart. When you highlight everybody’s abilities and work together as a team, it just brings out the best in each other.”
About half the students in Adkins’ leadership class have special needs.
“These guys have been together all year long, so it’s a lot deeper than coming out here and running,” she said. “This right here (the two victories at the state meet) is the topping for everything. What I see is these guys are friends. It doesn’t matter if they have special needs or not. They absolutely love each other and build on each others’ strengths. The leadership abilities … it’s amazing.
“Some may have intellectual disabilities, but the physical-ness, they’ve got it.”
Cuello was the anchor, and he spoke about the accomplishment.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I was actually pretty scared in the beginning. There was a gap and Gavin closed it on the third leg and I finished it. Once I felt that baton in my hand, I just took off.”
Gilon, who Adkins describes as a “great leader,” will be entering the Army next month.
Adkins will be bringing 34 Special Olympics athletes to Oahu for an upcoming meet.
“This (the unified team) is just a small percentage of what we have,” she said. “This experience is the icing on the cake.”